The Hold Steady are riding a wave of critical acclaim to the top of the indie rock heap, and they had no trouble compelling a sellout crowd to fight its way through 50 km/h gusting winds to Zaphod Beeblebrox for their show with Sean-Na-Na.

The club was looking full, if not packed, when Sean-Na-Na got on stage. The band bears a remarkable resemblance to the Hold Steady: They’re a quintet with two guitars (one of them played by their roly-poly leader), a bassist, drummer and keyboardist.

Lead singer Sean Tillmann kicked his music career off in noisy Amphetamine Reptile outfit Calvin Krime before moving in a poppier direction with Sean-Na-Na and his R&B fixated alter ego Har Mar Superstar. His robust power-pop is undoubtedly influenced by Cheap Trick, as is the jaded take on romance in some of his lyrics.

Sean and co. put on an entertaining show, which included inviting a local on stage to celebrate his birthday with shots of Jagermeister.

The Hold Steady’s music draws on a tradition of heartland rock’n’roll: Roots rockers like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, Twin City drunks the Replacements and Minneapolis home boys Soul Asylum lurk in their DNA, along with hard rockers like Thin Lizzy and AC/DC.

The group looks like a bunch of guys who have settled into a bar-band gig - singer Craig Finn and co-guitarist Tad Kubler look like they’d be more at home in a high school teacher’s lounge than a nightclub stage.

The lyrics are another matter. When not being compared to poets like Charles Bukowski, singer-guitarist Craig Finn is referencing Jack Kerouac and John Berryman (considering how many of the protagonists of his songs have fallen on hard times, perhaps John Milton should be also added to the list).

Finn gesticulates like a tightly wound stand up comedian as he spiels his way through the verses larded with down and outs, testy observation and the occasional exegesis on sainthood, as when he led into ‘Don't Let Me Explode’ with a condensed life of Saint Barbara (Babs is the patron saint of mine-layers thanks to her dad's death by lightning strike).

The band kept the pace with some sizzling rock until the encore, which they kicked off with ‘First Night’ and concluded with ‘Killer Parties’. They dragged a good chunk of the audience on stage and handed the guitars off to two showgoers (both of them from Ottawa groups as it happened) for a chaotic finale.

Throughout the show the audience was wild with enthusiasm, singing and clapping around, cheering as songs were recognized or announced – it was undoubtedly a high point in the year’s musical goings-on.

Set List: Stuck Between Stations/The Swish/Chips Ahoy/Cattle and the Creeping Things/Party Pit/Massive Nights/Girls Like Status/You Can Make Him Like You/Don’t Let Me Explode/Stevie Nix/Multitude of Casualties/Your Little Hoodrat Friend/Southtown Girls. Encore: First Night/Same Kooks/Killer Parties.

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Commenting On: Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa, 29/10/2006 - Hold Steady and Sean Na-Na

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