The Hold Steady at the Newport

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Albums by Brooklyn-based, Minnesota-bred rockers The Hold Steady usually begin with a bang - Craig Finn spouting rapid-fire ramblings about sex, drugs and the seedy underbelly of Minneapolis over a classic rock crunch of power chords and big riffs.

So when "The Sweet Part of the City" kicked off the band's new album "Heaven Is Whenever" with lap steel, 12-string guitar and shimmering keyboards at molasses tempo, it was clear The Hold Steady was no longer living up to its name.

"We wanted this album to sound kind of more current and more contemporary - less warm and vintage-y and more kind of slick," guitarist and primary composer Tad Kubler said during a recent interview.

Mission accomplished. That wasn't the end of the changes, though. The Hold Steady paired the more glossy approach with a new in-studio songwriting process that had ripple effects for the band's raucous live show.

"We couldn't just jump on stage and bash it out," Kubler said. "It takes a little more thought than that."

All this evolution has Kubler thinking about ways to up the ante when it comes to showmanship.

"I'd like to try to find something that's more inclusive with the people that are actually watching the show, that goes a step closer," he said.

Finn, the bespectacled frontman, is known for his charismatic stage presence. Bristling with enthusiasm, he spends most shows rushing back and forth across the stage, pumping his fist and letting loose inaudible exclamations away from the mic.

Kubler, inspired by acts like Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips, wants to incorporate visual elements to complement Finn's more intimate human charms.

He didn't expect to have anything so elaborate ready for The Hold Steady's show next Wednesday at Newport Music Hall with The Whigs. And even if the band is being described as "arena rockers" more than "bar band" these days, Kubler realizes he has to let reality temper his ambitions.

"We played a club in Savannah that we hardly fit on the stage," he said, "so for us to roll in there with lights would look pretty ridiculous."

7 p.m. Wednesday, July 14

Newport Music Hall, Campus