Twenty-nine and holding …

For The Hold Steady, revamping their bar-band image doesn’t mean resorting to good behavior.

The Hold Steady: They’re an American band.

When you’re not as young as you used to be, it’s more about creative consumption.

“The big thing I’ve learned is … not to drink until about 10 minutes before we go on, and then to drink as much as possible while we’re on stage. I can drink a six-pack on stage,” reveals front man Craig Finn in a press statement.

They’re only trying to keep up with their fans. As lead guitarist Tad Kubler once admitted: “The Hold Steady crowd [is] tons of drunk dudes … and then the girls that are there are totally [ticked].”

But in much the same way a night of heavy boozing can lead to a morning-after pledge of cleaner living, The Hold Steady seems to have turned a corner. All the partying “was more in terms of our first album,” Kubler says in a talk with Xpress. Almost Killed Me (2004) was critically acclaimed, if not widely known. In contrast, their Hüsker Dü-meets-Bruce-Springsteen-at-CBGB Boys and Girls in America was named 2006’s No. 1 album by Harp and Magnet. It earned No. 7 status from Billboard and No. 8 from Rolling Stone. Blender dubbed them band of the year.

“We’ve reached more people, and the profile of the band has continued to grow,” says Kubler. “Not only in terms of the range of ages, but there are a lot more girls at our shows, which is good for everybody.”

For The Hold Steady, this is a second chance. An earlier effort, Lifter Puller, gained local fame in hometown Minneapolis, but little notoriety outside of Minnesota. In 2000, Finn and Kubler relocated to New York with a now-or-never attitude. Surrounded by emo (about which Finn told Pitchfork last year, “I’m 35 years old so it’s obviously not for me”), they decided to form a new band based on the concert film The Last Waltz.

Their goal: iconic rock played by guys who don’t need to wear eyeliner.

However, by the time they reached middle age, Waltz subjects The Band had called it quits.

The Hold Steady, on the other hand, is just getting started.

And they’re breaking the mold in another arena, as well. Glance at the cover of any album by ‘70s-era groups like Canned Heat or The Guess Who and one thing is obvious: Those oversized sideburns and shaggy hairdos weren’t hiding man-pretty faces. Back then, bands could get away with any number of beauty violations: snaggle teeth, monobrows, he-bangs. And then came New Wave, and, as TV-savvy Brits The Buggles informed us, “video killed the radio star.”

Now, nearly three decades later, music seems to again hold a place (albeit tentative) for the less-than-symmetrical. Sure, Conor Oberst hasn’t washed his hair in years and Neil Halstead is still flirting with a porn-star mustache, but it’s The Hold Steady that proves good looks and barely-issued driver’s licenses don’t equal great talent.

In 2005, they became the first band in 15 years to grace the cover of The Village Voice.

“The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan … look at Wilco,” Kubler says defensively. “I could cite tons of [older] bands. As long as we’re having fun, we’ll keep doing this.”

He decides: “Our age has really allowed us to make decisions with integrity.”

The Hold Steady plays the Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave.) on Thursday, June 14, with Illinois and Emperor X. 9 p.m. $12/$15. 232-5800.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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