The Hold Steady: Four on Ten

The Hold Steady last toured extensively in 2014 for album Teeth Dreams; since then they have instead opted for multi show weekends in bigger cities to avoid the schlep of travelling and the laborious loading in and out of gear at different venues. These “massive nights” or “weekenders” also intensified the community around the band, making it easier for über fans to meet and revel in a short burst of rock culture. Photographer Lee Allen has documented many of the London shows in all their glory (check out his website).

The band have also made changes as to how they release music. In 2017, they “dropped” “Entitlement Crew” and “A Snake in the Shower” as a surprise before their run at the Brooklyn Bowl and have made this a habit before weekenders. Five of these tracks were included on 2019 album Thrashing Thru The Passion; the stragglers are collected on this Record Store Day Black Friday vinyl release Four on Ten (in other words, four songs on ten inch vinyl).

The four tracks on Four on Ten are potentially less commercial than the songs on Thrashing Thru The Passion, being more in the category of “B side” material. All four songs have a focus on the adventures of characters who are mostly in tricky circumstances, but still seem to be in good humour.

“The Last Time That She Talked To Me”, a standalone release in March 2019 and first played in November 2018 at Brooklyn Bowl, has some enthusiastic ensemble playing, with some dramatic instrumental interludes. True to form, Finn delivers some memorable images from the get-go:

Walked around forever tryin’ to find some other bank machine
that wasn’t gonna hit me with a service fee
I just remembered it was January Second
’cause everyone was throwin’ out their Christmas tree

The music rambles to fit the lyric as if an outtake from Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, and benefits from some distinctive horn playing by Stuart Bogie and Dave Nelson, with spirited back up vocals by Annie Nero.

“Eureka” and “Esther”, first released for the London 2018 shows, are perhaps less eccentric but remain full of energy. “Eureka” has a catchy guitar hook and Finn’s excited vocal spills over into a band break to “let freedom ring”; “Esther” is more downbeat but with some of the Hold Steady’s familiar motifs – clever-kid lyrics (“she said her name was Esther I said baby that sounds biblical/ain’t she the one that came up after Vashti?), and an ongoing cinematographic sensibility, with “all the movies in our heads about the lives we wanna live”.

“A Snake In The Shower”, the B side to “Entitlement Crew” released before the 2017 Brooklyn shows, is the most intense of the four tracks here, a jumpy Hitchcock mover and an exercise in fear and paranoia with a torch in the drawer, foil on the floor, and “blood on the buttons when I picked up the ‘phone”. Even at their heaviest, the Hold Steady retain their sense of fun, and Four on Ten is a pretty good spin.

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Label: Frenchkiss Records
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019