This year’s Heaven Is Whenever is the fifth studio album by Brooklyn’s Hold Steady, and if you’ve been paying any attention, you know what to expect. There are big, butt-rockin’ guitar riffs. There are boozy, shout-along choruses. There are Craig Finn’s half-sung, half-spoken vocals. And there are Finn’s usual themes: memories of growing up around Minneapolis, messed-up girls, great old punk bands, bad drugs, Catholic guilt.
Multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay left before the album was recorded. His quasi-classical keyboard-playing always seemed a little out of step with the rest of the band, so Heaven Is Whenever finds the Hold Steady sounding more like the Hold Steady than ever.
Still, the fun in listening to the Hold Steady is in the details, so it doesn’t matter that the big picture is familiar. In “We Can Get Together,” Finn tells of hanging out with a girl, spinning records, and talking about music. He mentions singles by Pavement, Hüsker Dü, Meatloaf, the Psychedelic Furs, and the great ’90s twee/riot-grrl band Heavenly. The Heavenly single they like is “about a pure and simple love.” But, years later, the song doesn’t seem so simple: “He wasn’t just the drummer, he was the singer’s little brother.” Here, Finn is referring to the suicide that ended Heavenly’s career. You don’t need to know that to understand what’s going on: it’s bittersweet nostalgia for youth, tinged with regret and guilt. And the Hold Steady manages to pack all this into a song that sounds like a classic-rock power ballad circa 1979.
The Night Marchers and New Politics also perform.
THE HOLD STEADY: 4th&B, Saturday, November 13, 8 p.m. 619-231-4343. $26.