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The Hold Steady

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In his introduction to the Lester Bangs anthology Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Greil Marcus famously asserted that "the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews." The New York band the Hold Steady presents a similar paradox: one of the smartest and most literate rock bands going writes almost nothing but songs about getting fucked up. On the 2004 debut Almost Killed Me front man Craig Finn (late of Lifter Puller) offered mordantly witty vignettes about the downwardly mobile; his songs were driven by MOR riff rock replete with unabashed guitar soloing, and he sang in a logorrheic, Springsteen-like drawl that managed to sound both jaded and impassioned. On the new Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss), Finn turns conceptual, chronicling the saga of Hallelujah, a "hood rat" battling temptation and searching for salvation in back alleys and backseats. Religious themes frame the story, suffusing songs like "How a Resurrection Really Feels" and "Cattle and the Creeping Things," a junk-sick rewrite of the Book of Exodus: "If small-town cops are like swarms of flies and if blackened foil is like boils and hail / I'm pretty sure we've been through this before." Despite Finn's acerbic humor (or maybe because of it), Separation Sunday is a dark album; I'm half surprised the CD booklet isn't illustrated with Larry Clark photos of pregnant biker gals shooting dope. Keith Harris discusses Separation Sunday and the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree in Section 1. The Hold Steady headlines, Red Eyed Legends play second, and Foxtail opens. Thu 6/2, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $8.

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