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Weekly what’s new – Craig Finn

We try to be objective here at ELM. So while we’d happily categorise ourselves as fans of The Hold Steady, it doesn’t mean we’re blindly loyal to everything they do. Take frontman Craig Finn’s recent debut album Clear Heart Full Eyes. It’s not an essential record by any means. Oh, it’s good, but definitely not great. It does, however, have a few moments that would easily stand alongside the best of his day job’s output. One such is new single ‘Jackson’. Check it out.

The Hold Steady – ABC, Glasgow

In these austere times, the prevailing logic of government seems to be ‘do more with less’. As services get cut, there is a promise that it’s the inessential which will go, that we’ll still have a recognisably efficient public service on offer. Only time will tell if this is achievable. Can you really cut back without cutting quality?

The Hold Steady find themselves in a similar position, touring the UK without a keyboard player for the first time. Continue reading

Franz Nicolay Leaves the Hold Steady

Recent ELM interviewee Franz Nicolay announced his departure from The Hold Steady yesterday. On his website, the multi-instrumentalist said “”You should know: I’ve left the Hold Steady. I told the band I’d be leaving in early September, played my last show with them in Minneapolis around Thanksgiving, and dotted the t’s and crossed the i’s this week. Five years seemed like a nice round number. Thanks to everyone who was a part of the experience.” Continue reading

21st Century Renaissance Man – Interview with Franz Nicolay

Rock stars these days are, not to put too fine a point on it, dull. They come from nice homes and do Business Studies at the local ex-poly before getting on the Radio 2 playlist and starting to pretend to care about Fair Trade farmers. Their uniform blandness is offensive.

Thankfully, the odd few still exist who don’t quite fit into the box. Step forward Franz Nicolay. Franz is, undoubtedly, the only piano/guitar/accordion and banjo-playing artist with a Jimmy Durrante tattoo currently out there. An unholy mixture of punk rock attitude, Doris Day movies and dapper 30s socialite looks, his CV includes a spell in an adult circus (where peers included an act called Pisspuddles the Clown) and various bands before becoming the secret weapon multi-instrumentalist for possibly the best American band of the last decade, the Hold Steady.

Last year he released a really rather splendid album called Major General and toured along with Mark Eitzel, putting on a show which was less conventional rock than avant-cabaret. It was funny, moving and bloody entertaining. In short, we love him. And were therefore delighted to catch up with him for a chat about last year, this year and what he’s up to…. Continue reading

The Wednesday What’s New? – Franz Nicolay

Ah, dear Franz Nicolay. Erstwhile keyboard player/soul of the Hold Steady, he released a very wonderful solo album recently and supported Eitzel on his recent tour. It is undoubtedly the best one-man guitar/accordion/banjo show you will see.

Here he is performing ‘Jeff Penalty’, a song detailing the time he was asked to support the Dead Kennedys, only to note they were hamstrung without one important component – Jello. Instead, some bloke named Jeff was doing the vocal chores. Having previously dismissed him, he reconsidered. It’s a song of punk rock redemption. Just don’t aske about Pisspuddles the Clown.

Franz’s album Major General is available now. You’ll probably have to go online for it, mind.

The Hold Steady – The Cockpit, Leeds

TheHoldSteady‘It’s cool to do these shows’ muses frontman Craig Finn. ‘We’ve been out on tour supporting Counting Crows and that’s been great. But it’s really nice to play in front of…’ he pauses and thinks for the most appropriate term ‘…your own people.’

That this literate, ambitious barroom band inspire such devotion among their fanbase will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever heard their four albums. Songs of characters so finely nuanced they could have stepped out of a Don DeLillo novel set to storming rock songs in thrall to classic sounds of Springsteen, Zeppelin and AC/DC but also nodding to the band members roots in the Positive Noise hardcore scene of Minneapolis which gave us Húsker Dú and the Replacements. Continue reading

The Hold Steady – Oxford Carling 2

E-Streeter checks out the ELM favourites;

Quite simply, it is a crime against the Gods of Music that a band as good as The Hold Steady are playing a theatrical armpit like the Oxford ‘Carling’ (translation: plastic beakers and £4 per pint of fizzy dishwater) Academy on a Monday night in December to about 500 people. Even a casual trawl round VH1, MTV or Kerrang! would put an insomniac into a musical coma, yet four albums of exquisitely crafted tunes and one of the best live acts around isn’t enough to put this band into the musical mainstream. It’s criminal, and if this is the New World Order kindly ram it somewhere sans lubricant.

Still, those of us braving the wet and cold of Oxford are blessed, richly rewarded with 23 (!) songs culled from an impressive back catalogue. Summoning all the objectivity I can dredge up, ‘Boys And Girls In America’ is a work of genius and slow-burned it’s way into my heart, beginning a mutual love affair with a band who enjoy playing as much as we do watching and singing along to the contagious hooks and joyfully yobbish ‘woah oh ohs’ that populate a THS set list. ‘Certain songs get scratched into your soul’. Indeed.

If you haven’t seen them live, you really are missing something unique – a band that don’t put a face on and love sharing what they do. Not ‘please love me’, but ‘isn’t this f*cking great?!’ way. Craig Finn, the most unlikely looking front man in music, is a two for the price one singer – singing the same lines or a verbal underscoring off mike and into the faces of the crowd, all done in a sweaty earnest way which avoids cliché with ease, Franz Nikolay’s keyboards swirling around the now recovered Tad Kubler on guitar, whose deceptively casual style drives the band along at an occasionally uncertain, always engaging pace which the Polivka/Drake rhythm section tries to set.

Highlights for me were a left-field ‘Modesto’s Not That Sweet’ (one for THS anoraks), a blistering ‘Constructive Summer’ opener which had the place bouncing from note one and pre-encore closer ‘Slapped Actress’, a jewel from the new ‘Stay Positive’ CD from which 8 other songs got an outing. I’ll be going to see THS in Bristol on Friday night, I know – absolutely know – that it’ll be a top drawer evening spent with people who love what they do and love to share it with you. Tom Perotta of The Guardian recently described The Hold Steady as the ‘fiercest, funniest, druggiest, most visionary American rock band of the 21st century’. Catch them while you can.