Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Hold Steady - Live At Fingerprints

Grade: B+

One of the most surprising things on the new Hold Steady live EP is how well their songs translate to acoustic settings. It turns out that their music isn't all about the distortion or the Springsteen glockenspiels, the heart of their songs is Gideon, Charlemagne, Holly, or whoever you're learning about. Craig Finn likes a good story, and he yells them just as well in an intimate setting.

There are only five tracks here, but they fairly represent the band's sound: "Cattle And The Creeping Things" from Separation Sunday; "Citrus," "Chips Ahoy!", "You Can Make Him Like You" from Boys And Girls In America, the unreleased "You Gotta Dance With Who You Came To The Dance With." It's a well-chosen set list, but it's interesting that the one song that doesn't quite work - the out-of-tune and sloppy "Chips Ahoy!" - is one of the highlights of Boys And Girls. Chalk that one up to overconfidence.

Finn's affable onstage persona survives the transition to a Long Beach record store, especially as he explains their new video for "Chips Ahoy!", in which two band members appear as, respectively, a pool-cleaner and pizza delivery man: "Cinematic history will tell you those are the two most getting-laid professions there are." The crowd is appreciative and into the songs, appropriately quiet as the band scales back their sound to match the setting.

When it doesn't quite work - the aforementioned crowding of "Chips Ahoy!", for example - the results are striking. There isn't any bombast to drown out the glitches, and the missteps are distracting. But if history has taught us anything, it's that the Hold Steady can do no wrong, and even these mistakes make the band more endearing.

Live At Fingerprints isn't the best acoustic Hold Steady recording I've heard - that award goes to "Stuck Between Stations" on Live Current, Vol. 2 - but it's great to hear the band giving it their all again. Even when not at their best, the Hold Steady makes other bands sound lazy.

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