Summerfest: The Hold Steady

Creatively, The Hold Steady hit its high water mark with 2006’s epic Boys and Girls In America, but the band isn’t known as a hit machine; it’s known as an in-your-face live rock act, and they didn’t disappoint on Thursday night at Milwaukee’s Summerfest music festival.

The Hold Steady’s signature sound pits Craig Finn’s unique sing-speak vocals against Tad Kubler’s sharp classic rock riffs, with Franz Nicolay’s keys providing support. Only Nicolay left the band in January leading to a sparser production on this year’s Heaven Is Whenever. The band played the two best tracks from the album — “Hurricane J” and “The Sweet Part of the City” — and while they’re quality songs, they struggle to hold their own against Boys and Girls classics like “Stuck Between Stations,” “Chips Ahoy,” “Massive Nights” and “Southtown Girls,” which all made an appearance on Thursday night. They also played the underrated “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” which was the track that put the band on my radar.

In total, The Hold Steady played for more than 90 minutes to a raucous and appreciative crowd. It’s obvious that this Brooklyn-based band has Midwestern roots, and their music speaks to their fans in Milwaukee. One of the great things about Summerfest is that a show like this is free with a $15 admission at the gate. (Admission is even cheaper if one takes advantage of the fest’s many promotions or buys his tickets in advance.)

Here’s a video from Letterman that captures what it’s like to see these guys live. (Finn’s voice usually sounds a little cleaner.)