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 Moves in 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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