Latitude 2009

The Hold Steady: yup, still good

John Mulvey

How many times have people written this summer about The Hold Steady being the unexpected hits of a festival? Enough times, I guess, for the hardest-working band in showbusiness to become blase about these sort of shows. The thing is, as Craig Finn surveys the crowd with undisguised glee, it's clear that this remarkable band's appetite for rock'n'roll is still heroically potent.

So here we are on that 2007 rarity, a hot summer afternoon, enjoying the Uncut-sponsored Latitude Festival (sold out, you'll note) and Uncut's favourite band of the year ripping it up yet again. I'll try not to be too smug from hereon in, I promise.

Because The Hold Steady certainly aren't smug. At the end of the latest two-month stint of their neverending tour, and with thousands more UK music fans rallying to their cause with every festival that passes, Craig Finn is still palpably humbled by the adulation. Yes, he goes on again about what a privilege it is to play rock music for a living, about the positive powers of this music, and yet again, all of it seems utterly passionate and heartfelt rather than mere showbiz schtick.

Here they are again, inexhaustibly bounding about the stage, keyboardist Franz Nicolai pogoing bizarrely in a full dinner suit. And it's impossible not to become infected by the Hold Steady's party-positive, pro-rock message. There are anthems and riffs and poetry and powerchords and, at the death, a transition between "Southtown Girls" and "Killer Parties" that has an ebbing, subtle beauty that belies their guyish reputation.

There are more words in their 40 minute set than in most of the poetry performances at this exceptional festival, and probably more wisdom, too. But I'm sure you all know that now. As ever, The Hold Steady rule.


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