Bands can have fraught relationships with their fans, even as they proclaim their love from the stage. One singer told me how he had pretended to be his own tour manager in order to email a fan whose presence at gigs he found particularly offputting, asking them not to stand at the front. Another, in an arena-filling band, said he hated playing the “back to our roots” club shows that big bands are supposed to adore, because they were always full of people desperate to demonstrate how they loved the band first and best by shouting out for radio session arrangements of early B-sides, when the band just wanted to play their new stuff.
So, as a Hold Steady fan, there’s some relief in feeling appreciated. The Brooklyn band rather slipped into their fan-celebration model by mistake. With them not being big ones for “digital strategies” and all, their fans stepped into the breach under the umbrella of “The Unified Scene” (a reference to a lyric from the song Sweet Payne … “Hey, there’s James King and King James and that’s James Dean/ At a table in the corner of my unified scene”), setting up a messageboard, organising meet-ups, and more or less running the band’s digital presence for themselves for a while. My favourite story of Hold Steady fandom involves their UK tour of 2007, when one young fan was spotted so often at the front he was asked to run the band’s merchandise sales. Then asked to do the same job in the US. When he said he couldn’t afford to do that, another (older, richer) fan stepped in and gave the young man his credit card for the duration of the US tour.
Gratifyingly, the band appreciate the efforts of their fans. Last year they launched a pledge campaign to benefit the family of a long-time fan who’d promoted several of their club shows in Pennsylvania, “Jersey” Mike van Jura, who died in 2012, aged 36. I never met him, but it’s a measure of how tightly knit the Hold Steady’s fans are that I and many others knew all about him, and knew about his passing even from several thousand miles away. That appreciation is why Craig Finn’s onstage monologue during the sometime encore Killer Parties makes a point of thanking the audience not for being at the show, but for being part of the show (when they played it at the End of the Road festival in 2009, the monologue mentioned by name pretty much everyone Finn knew at the festival, including me, my wife and my kids. I didn’t hear it. We’d left partway through that song to drive back to London).
All of which is a roundabout introduction to the fact that the Hold Steady have made a short film, ahead of their new album Teeth Dreams (released on 24 March), in which Craig Finn and Tad Kubler reflect on their relationship with their fans. Have a look, and let us know what you think.
PS I promise this is the last thing I will write about this Hold Steady album for the Guardian.