The Hold Steady - A Positive Rage

Album Review by Jason Morton | 07 Apr 2009
  • The Hold Steady - A Positive Rage
Album title: A Positive Rage
Artist: The Hold Steady
Label: Rough Trade/Vagrant
Release date: 6 April

“A lot of people don’t believe that rock and roll can save your soul…I don’t think any one of these people have ever seen The Hold Steady.”

- Concert-goer interviewed on A Positive Rage

OK, so that’s a bit grandiose of a statement – perhaps best reserved for spectators of 70s Led Zep, Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special, or At Folsom Prison – but that doesn’t take away from the fact THS are one of the most compelling live forces of recent times.

Curiously, Rage brings listeners to the band’s burgeoning Boys and Girls in America tour, the live set being recorded at the second of two nights at the Chicago Metro. Playing a cross-section of their back catalogue – but including early versions of Stay Positive staples – the boys from Brooklyn know where to pick their spots: Craig Finn’s literary lyrics come through clearly – with his often manic, emotive inflection – as does Tad “Koob” Kubler’s improvisational riffage. Though the backing vocals sometimes seem to be tuned too high, with its otherwise consistent musicianship, Rage is a surrogate hits package, conveying a bit of personality with the cinematic lyrics and beer-drinkin’ rock and roll.

The accompanying documentary, presented on a separate DVD, may be a bit lost on newcomers, but will be a must-see for diehards. Starting with the band’s first-ever London gig, the film is structured as a prodigal band story, bringing the boys back home to Minneapolis after a month-long North American trek. While many music docs rely upon debauchery or internal unrest as a centrepiece for storytelling, Rage gives the truth of the band, which does it service: These are just five ordinary, yet charismatic, average joes doing what they love – drinkin’ and playing rock shows. It also showcases The Hold Steady’s broad appeal, with Finn and Co. greeted with praise in bars and record stores from grizzled biker types and young children alike.

So, while it’s a stretch to pin your eternal soul on these rockers, it’s not a bad bet that you’d have a blast at the live gigs, the sort well-documented on the two discs of Rage.