As I was getting ready to walk out of the office last Friday, a small manila envelope came across my desk. My heart fluttered, my palms got sweaty—could it be? It was! The new Hold Steady album Stay Positive was finally in my greedy little hands. The sad thing about my level of excitement was that I already had the album in digital form, having forked over $10 on iTunes for the digital advance before my Fourth of July trip back east. But that just felt like a tease: Headphones are no place for full-fledged Hold Steady immersion. Finally, I got to slide the disc into my car stereo, put down the windows and turn up the volume.
The album is excellent—bombastic and dense and crammed with tiny shoutouts to the faithful. (I've compared listening to this band to watching Arrested Development—for every "Her?" there's a "positive jam.") From perverse tales of townie parties gone wrong to the ironic title entreaty to "Stay Positive," the album covers all the band's strengths. And as if Craig Finn & Co. needed to do anything else to make my knees go weak, they went ahead and brought in Patterson Hood and Ben Nichols to sing back up.
That said, I hate this band. Why oh why won't they play Nashville? A whole year of touring behind Boys and Girls in America brought them no closer than Manchester, and recently released tour dates also avoid Music City. Did something terrible happen to them here? Did Bruton buy them one too many shots? Were they the ones who killed Janet March? Did they play to a half-filled venue?
Seeing the band in a club has become my white whale—a family emergency forced me to miss a show in Birmingham (with The Thermals!) and the band played my hometown of Philly a couple days after I left town. It looks like this summer will yet again leave me unsatisfied. I guess I just gotta stay positive.