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Staying Positive

After completing a laudable tenure with The Hold Steady, Franz Nicolay soldiers on towards riskier endeavors.
Nicolay on a sad day.
Image by Photo Courtesy Miles Kerr
Nicolay on a sad day.

What: Franz Nicolay

When: November 5th

Where: Triple Rock Social Club


After The Hold SteadyâÄòs 2006 release, âÄúBoys and Girls in America,âÄù Minneapolis bard Craig Finn had successfully navigated his scraggly gang of blue-collared bar rockers into a comfortable status within the indie rock sphere. Two LPs later, their sound has coalesced into an identifiable indie shtick, with their latest record, âÄúHeaven is Whenever,âÄù resounding the fact that these guys now seem to really be resting on their laurels âÄî a fact that led to longtime keyboardist Franz NicolayâÄôs exit from the group earlier this year.

âÄúThe band reached a comfortable spot,âÄù Nicolay said. âÄúI think once you reach that point, you have to make a decision as a group. Are you comfortable there? Do you just want to maintain that or take another risk?âÄù

So after a final stint of dates with the group last fall, Nicolay has spent the better portion of this year reigniting that rock âÄònâÄô roll spark. It has been no sort of lazy sabbatical either. Nicolay toured with Against Me! for a good portion of the summer. More significantly, he released his second proper solo album, âÄúLuck and Courage,âÄù in October.

That vaudevillian mystique always emanating from NicolayâÄôs stage presence during his days with The Hold Steady naturally resonates throughout most of the âÄúLuck and CourageâÄù tracks. That is not to say that his caricature dominates the album. Rather, it is NicolayâÄôs fluid delivery of verbally crammed verses with such a smooth cadence that elevates most of the songs.

His robust lines do somewhat result from his proximity to such comparably heavy-handed lyricists as Finn. However, where Finn often sounds clunky and half-drunk, Nicolay sounds smooth and deliberate across the tracks âÄî most of which were written during his massive amounts of free time on the road with The Hold Steady.

âÄúEssentially youâÄôre travelling while youâÄôre sleeping,âÄù Nicolay said. âÄúYou wake up and then youâÄôve got all day to kill in some strange city before the show starts, so you create for yourself all these little projects to do.âÄù

Perhaps the greatest feat for NicolayâÄôs dedication to a solo career will surround the change in performance. His long-lived role as The Hold SteadyâÄôs crowd rouser will likely be traded in for a more reserved presence.

âÄúItâÄôs a matter of making the most of your performance time,âÄù Nicolay said. âÄúIf IâÄôm going out there by myself, and I donâÄôt have a band behind me, itâÄôs not as loud or raucous. ItâÄôs a bit more of a cerebral performance.âÄù

Ultimately, these new frontiers are reiterations of that excitement lost within The Hold SteadyâÄôs creative stagnancy. For Nicolay, these challenges are half the fun.

âÄúItâÄôs easier to capture and keep peopleâÄôs attention if youâÄôre up there with a big rock band than it is by yourself,âÄù Nicolay said. âÄúThatâÄôs the kind of risk that IâÄôm talking about that I like to take.âÄù

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