Group Study

The Hold Steady holds court at Littleton High School.

And a hell of a band it is. The Hold Steady is one of the best-regarded indie-rock acts to emerge in years. Finn describes his group as a bar band, first and foremost, and he's right. The songs are bare-bones, meat-and-potatoes rock that wouldn't sound out of place between Born to Run and Night Movesin the disc changer. What sets this band apart is Finn's compelling narratives and his Beat-poet delivery, often masked by screaming guitars. Drained of all their ballast in an acoustic setting, though, the songs rely on Finn's raspy voice, which sounds like a detuned composite of Tom Waits, Joe Cocker and John Hiatt, and the performance seems more like a poetry reading set to music than a rock show.

But Uhl was right: The kids got used to Finn's vocal style. And now, when the band launches into "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," the first of a dozen tunes it will deliver over the course of an hour (one will be played live for the first time), they hang on to every word.

For Finn, a guy whose songs are birthed from daily twenty-minute, stream-of-consciousness writing sessions, this audience is just the kind to get the lines he penned for "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night," the second song in the set: "We mix our own mythologies/We push them out through PA systems/We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen/I'm not saying we could save you, but we could put you in a place where you could save yourself/If you don't get born again, at least you'll get high as hell."

That's a metaphor, right, Mr. Thom?

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