The Hold Steady is living a dream: Five guys in their late 30s, banging out a brand of punk rock with a Minnesota lineage and a Springsteen heart, and a lyric book that attempts to reconcile a Midwestern Catholic upbringing with a new-world Brooklyn perspective. They succeed by leaving nothing on the table, whether it’s the soul-baring reflections of nebbishy frontman Craig Finn, the kitchen-sink approach to incorporating musical tidbits or the finesse with which they bang out material culled from four albums released over the past four years.
Finn has tapped into the sincerity that was the lifeblood of fellow Minnesotans Husker Du and pre-“Born to Run” Bruce Springsteen, combining the succinctness of Bob Mould’s guitar chords and the sprawl of Springsteen’s words. Unlike so many bands that spring from indie labels and the Internet onto Nielsen Soundscan’s top 40 — their latest, “Stay Positive,” sold 17,000 copies two weeks ago to debut at No. 30 — the Hold Steady arrived with a worldly perspective instead of the snarky observations most college-age bands offer.
Like the songs of Uncle Tupelo brain trust Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar — and the work they have produced separately in Wilco and Son Volt — the Hold Steady are keenly aware of Midwestern geography, most specifically the Mississippi River, and its effect on lives. Water is always a favorite metaphor of songwriters, but in these hands, it becomes more specific, a route of discovery, abandonment and rescue — a potential escape route for Midwestern tramps pulling out of town.
The Hold Steady, who record for the emo and punk label Vagrant, thrive on a distillation of memories, whether it be Catholicism or a hook from an old doo-wop record, and addressing that past with concision and a reconciled p.o.v. It clicks with an audience, judging by Wednesday’s enthusiastic crowd, that’s generally not looking for new bands to embrace: men 30-50. The appeal is quite similar to that of Green Day: We’ve heard it before, but we have not quite heard it in this uniquely compelling way.
New tune “Sequestered in Memphis,” for example, taps into the same post-punk pop bedrock that the Fountains of Wayne stand on, but the Hold Steady fills it with an air of mystery: Something clearly went wrong in a bar during a business trip, but exactly what transpired is anyone’s guess. Performance of the tune, along with renditions of “Stay Positive,” “Navy Sheets” and “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” were the brightest moments in Wednesday’s 80-minute set.