The other day I was browsing around eMusic when I came upon Lifter Puller, the band that eventually went on to spawn The Hold Steady. While that band, led by the manic near-spoken word street poetics of Craig Finn, has developed into one of America’s finest pure rock acts, as well as releasing one of my favorite albums of the decade so far (Separation Sunday), I had up until recently never heard the music of Lifter Puller. So I decided to pick up Fiestas & Fiascos, their 2000 swan song.
After a few listens I feel it’s safe enough to say it sounds close to Almost Killed Me, the Hold Steady’s debut. You can hear the eventual strengths of The Hold Steady starting to develop throughout the songs. Craig Finn does pretty much the same sing/speak/shouting we’ve grown to love (and hate) over the past 3 albums. His stories and characters, while perhaps not as vividly realized as on Hold Steady albums, were still up to their old tricks (“when Niteclub Dwight starts to talk about us getting some rocks he ain’t talking about the ice cubes”, “now Jenny missed her ride and she’s taking off her tights in the backseat of some taxi….and 1,2,3,4 and that’s the way that Jenny scores”). There are a few mentions of a night-club called the Nice, Nice, which on repeated listens offers the opportunity for a makeshift story arc, with all the sordid characters hanging around the same place - possibly the future stomping grounds of Holly and Charlemagne. And the Springsteen influence is already apparent - I mean there’s a song called “Candy’s Room” that imitates that song’s rushing cymbal introduction.
The biggest differences between the two bands aren’t necessarily in philosophy so much as ability. On Fiestas & Fiascos Finn’s stories don’t consistently carry the weight of the best ones he would soon write for The Hold Steady. He has grown into a writer able to mix the jungleland theatrics he obviously loves with characters that are more than just unsympathetic junkies, hookers, and cons. Now they demand our sympathy as well as our awe because they’re really just reflections of us all walking around drinking at our first underage party, or shoving our way to the bar at last call, or enjoying an outdoor summer music festival.
Like The Hold Steady, Lifter Puller was primarily Finn’s vehicle, but the corner bar band sound that still unfairly dogs the band today (The Hold Steady have developed into so much more than that) is more evident here. These songs lack the huge riffs and Roy Bittan-esque piano fills of Boys & Girls In America, instead getting by on pure beer-soaked grime and with more reliance on Finn’s hoodrat lyrics. At best, Fiestas & Fiascos is an excellent display of where the band was in its early days - and fans would enjoy connecting the dots backwards from Almost Killed Me. It is also indisputable evidence of just what a riff factory guitarist Tad Kubler has become, not to mention what as asset pianist Franz Nicolay is. While not exactly a classic that stands on its own, Fiestas & Fiascos is a worthy piece of Hold Steady history that any fan of the band would be happy to discover.
MP3 :: Space Humping $19.99
MP3 :: Nice, Nice
(from Fiestas & Fiascos)
Buy Lifter Puller music from eMusic
And why not?:
MP3 :: The Swish
(from Almost Killed Me by The Hold Steady)
MP3 :: Your Little Hoodrat Friend
(from Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady)
MP3 :: Stuck Between Stations (Live on The Current)
(Originally from Boys & Girls In America)