[16 February 2011]
Recorded last year, the Hold Steady’s stripped-down acoustic session for iTunes tilts understandably towards a playlist of deflated and sadly-knowing ballads. The set reinforces the dad-friendly vibe of the Minnesota-born indie darlings’ last record Heaven is Whenever, and as such carries the same lingering stench of folkish blandness of that decidedly mixed musical bag. Still, even if the band is busy counting crows, Craig Finn holds sway with his wavering novelistic charm. The setlist matches a smooth, low-key take on “Chips Ahoy!” with its recent narrative continuation, “The Weekenders” (albeit in reverse order); Finn even indulges in a brief bit of VH1 Storytellers banter concerning the former, telling us that the signature single from Boys and Girls in America is about, well, pretty much what it is quite obviously about. Complaints aside, though, as long as Finn continues his recurring sung/spoken references to Massachusetts, Led Zeppelin, Catholicism, and those intermingling characters, places, and moments that make up the Hold Steadyverse, then his band can never really fail to engage.