In the miles of cornfields and strips of dive bars that set the scene for The Hold Steady’s rock n’ roll story telling, Midwest townies, hood rats and kooks rise to fame when Craig Finn shouts their names and tales around the world. At a show in the Midwest, The Hold Steady’s fans are half the show, shouting right along with Finn, pumping fists in the air and pointing fingers at their hero.
The band will return to their Midwest roots Friday, September 28, with a free show outside the Majestic Theatre, celebrating the venue’s five-year anniversary.
“Madison’s always a stop we look forward to,” Finn says. “There’s always a lot of family there for our shows.”
Though The Hold Steady resides in Brooklyn, where the band formed, frontman Craig Finn hails from Minneapolis suburb Edina, lead guitarist Tad Kubler grew up in Janesville, and bassist Galen Polivka graduated from Whitefish Bay High School near Milwaukee.
The Hold Steady’s albums are more than peppered with references to the streets, parks, dark alleys and open fields of Minnesota where Finn’s recurring train-wreck characters grow up, get high, search for God and sometimes die—all in a romantic sort of way.
“I think I always liked songs that are kind of specific and rooted somewhere; I like songs that aren’t just vague big brush strokes, so a lot of songs are set in Minneapolis where I grew up,” Finn says.
When Finn moved to New York in 2000, he says he realized what he valued about the Midwest.
“The big sky, and the room to move,” Finn says. “That sort of feeling of freedom, especially when you get your license—the ability to go somewhere. When I think about going out at night in high school, it was not unusual to drive like 50 miles or something.”
Spun into poetry, Finn’s characters seek and grapple with this freedom as they fall into drugs, run from police, sleep around and pass out whilst contemplating the meaning of existence and love in their chaotically expanding world.
In “Most People Are Djs,” Finn drawls, “I was a Twin Cities trash bin. / I did everything they’d give me. / I’d jam it into my system. / She had me cornered in the kitchen. / I said I’ll do anything but listen / to some weird talking chick who just can’t understand / that we’re hot soft spots on a hard rock planet.”
As Finn aged, so too did his characters. From them emerged an optimistic attitude, with the album Stay Positive, and then they sort of became advisors—the type you’d find at bar time asking for one more drink to tell you another cautionary tale.
And one more drink, they will have. Finn says they hope to start recording a sixth studio album in October for a Spring 2013 release. The Madison audience this Friday will likely get to hear a few of these new songs on test runs.
Read for more on the Majestic Theatre’s Five-Year Anniversary Party.
Rory Linnane is an editorial intern for Madison Magazine.
Photo by Mark Seliger.