When the Brooklyn-via-Minnesota rockers the Hold Steady hit the the stage at Club DeVille at SXSW last Friday afternoon, they were not dressed like Mexican gangsters. They were, however, dolled up as "banditos," as frontman Craig Finn puts it, Halloween 2007 at Chicago's Metro. That performance is captured on A Positive Rage, the band's new live CD/DVD that's out April 7th. "The ponchos, fake mustaches, the hats and the gun belts and stuff kind of came apart quickly," guitarist Tad Kubler recalled for Rolling Stone the day after the band's SXSW gig.
(Check out some of the band's SXSW gig above, as well as more with Finn and Kubler.)
Finn and Kubler's favorite live gigs they've seen as fans have not involved costumes. "I think the best show I ever saw was probably winter 1986. It was the Replacements on the Tim record at at First Ave in Minneapolis," Finn says. "They're my favorite band so by default I say that, but it's probably the best show of theirs that I've ever seen. I've seen Springsteen be amazing too. Last '07 in St. Paul." Kubler's pick: "Cheap Trick at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. It was a great experience because that was a great realization for me at seven or eight years old, being like, 'Wow, that's amazing to get up onstage and perform in front of people playing rock music.' "
Wisconsin-raised Kubler was immersed in the Chicago music scene as a kid, often taking refuge at the Windy City's famed venue the Metro, where he caught bands like the Jesus Lizard and Shellac. "I saw Jane's Addiction at the Metro during the Nothing Shocking tour," he tells RS. "I actually got kicked out before they played." The reason for his early dismissal: smoking a joint. (He got back in when "Somebody from a radio station or a publicist saw me moping around outside and he gave me an extra ticket.") So the Hold Steady's two sold-out Halloween 2007 shows at the Metro had extra significance.
"What's really great about a live performance is being at that particular moment at a particular time," Kubler says. "It's hard because of the way technology is sometimes you can forget about that or take it for granted. Being in the room during a great live show and the energy between the audience of whose performing is such a great reminder why you love music so much," Kubler says. A Positive Rage focuses on the Hold Steady's special relationship with their fans, as well as the community that sprouted up around their music. "We started seeing people traveling greater distances to see the band or see four or five shows in a row," Finn says. The DVD includes a fan commentary track so concert-goers can relay their experiences. "One kid on there said, 'I came to the show alone and I hate going to shows alone, and tonight I didn't feel alone, I felt like I was with a 100 good friends.' That was touching," Finn adds.
Always the road warriors, the band has nevertheless seen their rock & roll lifestyle mellow slightly over the years. "Our rider has a couple of bottles of whiskey and a couple cases of beer and a few bottles of wine, and there used to be nights where before we got onstage where we're like, 'We need to get another bottle of whiskey.' " Kubler says, "Now, there is so much liquor in our bus by the time we end the tour that we don't know what do with it." Still the guitarist remembers one occasion in Detroit when drinking led to a backstage fall down a stairwell. "I was seriously hurt and we had like four or five days left and I literally limped through the rest of the tour. I got back and had my foot x-rayed and found it I had broken it in two different places."
As for the band's top-secret pre-show rituals, "We all high five each other. That's about it," Finn admits. He also tells Rolling Stone that once the band wraps up touring behind Stay Positive in a few months they'll start thinking about their next album: "We are starting to write some songs and piece some things together."