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MUSIC REVIEW

Hard-rockin' chaos is what fuels the Hold Steady

CAMBRIDGE -- The Hold Steady had only played one song Monday at the Middle East when guitarist Tad Kubler announced that the end of the tour is when everything falls apart. He wasn't kidding. At the time, bassist Galen Polivka was trying to locate an instrument that worked, forcing vocalist Craig Finn and keyboardist Franz Nicolay to veer from the setlist to play the two-man "Certain Songs" to keep things moving.

It was one of a number of mishaps that befell the Hold Steady on its last show after a monthlong leg of dates. But some degree of chaos is to be expected from the band, which seems to have an open-door policy on letting its opening acts (in this case, mockingly self-aggrandizing indie rocker Sean Na Na and power trio the Big Sleep) wander on- and offstage and whose lyrics focus on rootless and uncertain screwups fumbling with sex, alcohol, and drugs.

Such chaos also sets up moments like the one that followed "Certain Songs." Polivka had finally procured a bass, and Kubler's snarling opening guitar line to "The Swish" sounded like a proclamation after the prior confusion. The band slammed together as a solid unit, and the Hold Steady was up and running.

With three albums in as many years now under its belt, the band has finally reached a point where previous live staples have to be dropped to make room for songs from the month-old "Boys and Girls in America." But the anthemic new material served just fine, with the choruses of "Party Pit," "Massive Nights," and "Southtown Girls" all seemingly designed with crowd participation in mind.

That's how the show ended, with audience members flooding the stage as the band played "Killer Parties." By then, issues like dropped microphones and Nicolay's mysterious keyboard failure didn't matter. The room had already gone crazy earlier when Finn hit the line "Damn right, she'll rise again" in the roaring "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and the Hold Steady knows full well that you can't pick yourself up without falling first.

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