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The Hold Steady

click to enlarge The Hold Steady is just like everyone else: - The boys high-five excessively while drinking.
  • The Hold Steady is just like everyone else: The boys high-five excessively while drinking.
When the topic comes up, Tad Kubler, guitarist for The Hold Steady, says that he thinks his group is capable of translating its music to arena-sized audiences of 10,000 or more.

"It's still the five of us getting up there and having a good time together, playing songs that we wrote and that we rehearsed, that we've recorded, that we know how to do," Kubler says.

It's a bit of a point of contention for the band. The Hold Steady has a reputation of being one of America's best bar bands which says more about the atmosphere the group creates at live shows than the size of the venues it plays. Still, the members of the band seem to have embraced the label, even though Kubler realizes it can carry some negative connotations.

It's only when discussing those connotations that he grows less comfortable.

"It's funny because it really depends on the user in applying that term," he says. "It's a very inclusive thing that we do, and the audience is very much a part of the performance. I think some people have also used it, on the contrary, to maybe suggest we're ... not [that] sophisticated. By referring to us as a bar band, it's like [saying], "These guys really aren't sophisticated players, their songs are simple,' or something like that. But I think anybody that knows us or has actually sat down and listened to our music I don't think they would use "bar band' as a term to describe us in that particular way."

The group's Boys and Girls in America (2006) certainly does feature bar-band music of the highest order if one insists on using that term in the first place.

It offers a meaty synthesis of classic rock and edgy punk where gritty guitar riffs and keyboard parts are wrapped around vocalist Craig Finn's weathered tales of working-class people trying to make (or medicate) their way through their daily existences.

These musical and lyrical qualities have earned The Hold Steady its share of admirers within the independent music scene and music press since 2004, when the band self-released its debut CD, Almost Killed Me. A second CD, Separation Sunday, was released the following year.

Kubler says that with Boys and Girls in America, the band (which also features keyboardist Franz Nicolay, bassist Galen Polivka and drummer Bobby Drake) really began to click musically.

"We realized that one of our strengths is how we play together and how we communicate together on stage and rehearsal space," he says. "We wanted to make sure that came across on the record better."

For now, it's still possible to experience The Hold Steady in a nightclub or bar environment, although Kubler says he's seeing a gradual growth in the band's audience.

"Just playing bigger shows is really what it's about," Kubler says. "That's the reward for us.

"It's like, "Holy shit, it's a Tuesday night in Little Rock, Ark., and there are 400 people here.' Hopefully that will continue to grow."

scene@csindy.com

The Hold Steady with Art Brut and The Blood Arm
Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
Monday, Nov. 12, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $17, 16-plus; visit ticketmaster.com.

  • A love-hate relationship with the 'bar band' tag.

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