Rychard Carrington reports on The Hold Steady and Wintersleep - The Junction, Cambridge, 17 February 2011

The Hold Steady
Junction 1, The

"I saw rock'n'roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen", wrote Jon Landau famously in 1974. Judging by tonight, 20111, he wasn't wrong. The Springsteen style of rock is evidently triumphantly resilient, far more so than anyone would have thought thirty years ago when it seemed like new wave and electo-funk had changed everything. Many not yet born then have taken to the sound; these days its often speeded up a little, but otherwise hardly altered.


Support act Wintersleep definitely impressed. They are intelligent, sincere, solidly-rocking Canadians, whose singer's voice resembled thast of Rufus Wainwright. Keyboards added a welcome extra texture, but it was essentially Springsteenian rock in sound and attitude. They were deservedly well received; the audience would have clapped even more loudly if they hadn't been holding glasses of beer  in their hands.


THe Hold Steady's leader Craig Finn is 39 and doesn't look at all rock'n'roll; he even slightly resembles Sgt. Bilko. He delivers his vocals like a lively beat poet. He's loquacious, full of subtle, powerful feelings he wants to communicate; one senses that he would say a lot more if he wasn't constrained by having to fit his words inside a rock-song format. He's obviously thoughtful and articulate. For those in the audience not familiar with The Hold Steady's oeuvre, the bigger constraint was not being able to make out what most of the words were, on account of the loudness and pace of the music.


The rub lay in not being sure whether Finn was doing something cleverer than merely perpetuating a tradition that is powerful and enjoyable, but perhaps a little boorish, a little too old-hat, a little too tiredly masculine. The jury's still out on that one. Careful investigation of The Hold Steady's recordings might help them decide.

I could also have done with a little more variety of peace and texture.

But, taking heed of their rousing encore, I shall 'stay positive'. For indeed the Springsteenian rock sound is strong and exuberant, and these guys do play it well. It's a thin line between authentic rock energy and stadium and metal excess, but The Hold Steady and Wintersleep are definitely on the right side of it. The tradition is well held, steadily perpetuated.


Writer: Rychard Carrington