It might be a little pompous to call the singer in a band a poet, and maybe a tad cliché to talk sports and whiskey with an American rock group.
But it’s hard not to do both when you’re dealing with the Hold Steady.
The group is set to play Sunday night at the University of Washington’s HUB Ballroom. In all likelihood, there will be drinking and some sing-alongs as the Hold Steady continues to ride the momentum of its critically adored “Boys and Girls in America.”
Like the classic rock acts the group recalls — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in their heyday, for instance — the Hold Steady always seems to be either playing a show or recording an album.
The quintet’s first three records came out in quick succession, in 2004, 2005 and 2006. And the group has spent nearly 300 days on the road during the last year, by lead guitarist Tad Kubler’s count.
Frontman Craig Finn punched home the importance of that grind during a 2006 interview with the Onion.
“Bands live and die by their live shows,” he said. “But those have always been the bands I love, too. I’d hate for it to be the other way around. That would hurt my pride, for people to say, ‘Well, their records are great, but they aren’t much live.’ “
No one’s saying that about this group.
Dressed in plaid with thick-rimmed glasses on his face, his hair receding, Finn stabs at the air like a caffeinated street preacher, punctuating his verses with a sweep of the arm or the jab of a finger. Band members whoa-oh-oh their back-up parts, smiling. They seem to be having fun.
The band’s average age is over 30, relatively creaky for a group to get their level of buzz. Granted, this is a go-for-broke band. Finn, 36, has been known to throw everything from Budweiser to his own body into a crowd.
“I think we can probably appreciate it a lot more,” Kubler, 34, said of the upside to the group’s ages. “We’ve all been doing this for a long time, since we’ve all been teenagers.”
So the live shows have earned raves in the New York Times and on trend-setting blogs alike. The albums don’t disappoint, either. “Separation Sunday” and “Boys and Girls in America,” which came out in 2005 and 2006, were among the best-reviewed records of those years.
A rough but stylish vocalist, Finn practically spits out his lyrics. He rarely dwells too long on a melody, focusing his attention on tales of teenage excess. While he doesn’t shy away from nabbing a line from Jack Kerouac, Finn can turn a phrase.
“I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere,” he croons on the uncharacteristically down-tempo “Citrus.”
And then there’s the anthemic “Stuck Between Stations,” during which he tosses off a line that could serve as an epitaph for the self-professed drinking band: “We drink, and we dry up, and now we crumble into dust.”
The band has been playing new material during its shows, and may hit the studio again after the group finishes its fall tour, to record a fourth album.
“We want to get the next record out as quickly as possible, as quickly as we can put together something we’re really happy with,” Kubler said.
As for the record’s sound, don’t expect too many surprises. Kubler said band members aren’t going techno or anything like that. And yet, even if they did, with Finn at the lead, it probably would still sound like a Hold Steady record.
“It actually makes it a little easier,” Kubler said of Finn’s vocals, “because we’re always going to sound like The Hold Steady, regardless of the music I bring.”
Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.