The Hold Steady has garnered the reputation as the "best bar band in America," and anyone who has experienced one of the band’s raucous performances can attest to this oh-so-fitting title. After four studio albums, the quintet has finally documented a live performance with A Positive Rage, recorded on October 31, 2007, the second of a sold-out, two-night stand at The Metro in Chicago, Illinois.
Unfortunately, the traits that make a great bar band are easily lost in the translation from the stage to the live album. A Positive Rage suffers, particularly on older tracks like “The Swish” and “Barfruit Blues” off of 2004’s Almost Killed Me. Here, Craig Finn’s delivery, while raw in the live setting, seems sloppy without his manic pacing, rigid animation, and sly grin. But the power of The Hold Steady isn’t lost completely. “Lord, I’m Discouraged” is bittersweet, the band playing with stinging clarity. “Southtown Girls” and the set-closing “Killer Parties” are all sweaty energy and beaming bravado.
It goes without saying that any group bestowed the title of "best bar band in America" really should be seen live, in a bar. But even if The Hold Steady’s energy isn’t effectively portrayed on A Positive Rage, the performance certainly offers a few glimpses into a group primed and ready to take their music – and their live show – to bigger, brighter venues.
A Positive Rage is out now on Vagrant Records.