The Hold Steady is the current project of former Lifter Puller vocalist -- and security broker -- Craig Finn. After the legendary Minneapolis band went belly-up, Finn left his job in the finance trade and moved to New York City to create stories of the underworld. A street punk with a tie on, Finn is the epitome of post-everything gutter poet (although he'd probably growl at me for saying it). He barks out his staccato bursts of alienation with a sense of urgent abandon while the band stomps around him with a combination of chugging riffs and tricky rhythmic displays.
Finn's lyrics are topical to the extreme, with references to pop culture, politics, cities, historical events, slogans, and phrases we've all heard before. On "The Swish" alone, he mentions Elizabeth Shue, Robo from Black Flag, the Band's Robbie Robertson, and Journey's Neil Schon. "Most People Are DJs" trails off into a fervent fiesta of Neil Young/Karl Hendricks "crying" guitar, while on "Hostile, Mass.," pianist Franz Nicolai and sax player Peter Hess add a downright E Street Band feel. Finn's voice is ultimately grating, and his smarmy lyrics just ain't clever enough to sustain it. I hear he's a hell of a tennis player, though. -- Joe Harrington