Friday, April 3, 2009

Bruised hips from doing the bump too much.

172. Lifter Puller - "Lonely in a Limousine" (from the Fiestas + Fiascos album, The Self-Starter Foundation, 2000)
173. the Hold Steady - "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" (from the Separation Sunday album, Frenchkiss Records, 2005)
174. Lifter Puller - "To Live and Die in LBI" (from the Half-Dead and Dynamite album, Reckless, 1996)
175. Lifter Puller - "Back in Blackbeard" (from the Might as Well... Can't Dance compilation, Adeline Records, 2000)
176. the Hold Steady - "You Can Make Him Like You" (from the Boys and Girls in America album, Vagrant Records, 2006)
177. Lifter Puller - "11th Avenue Freezeout" (from the Soft Rock compilation, the Self Starter Foundation, 2002)
178. the Hold Steady - "Positive Jam" (from the Almost Killed Me album, Frenchkiss Records, 2004)
179. Lifter Puller - "Touch My Stuff" (from the Fiestas + Fiascos album, The Self-Starter Foundation, 2000)
180. Lifter Puller - "The Pirate and the Penpal" (from the Twin Town High Music Yearbook Vol. 2: 1998-1999 compilation, Digital Edison, 1999)
181. the Hold Steady - "Modesto Is Not That Sweet (acoustic)" (unreleased?)
182. Lifter Puller - "Nice, Nice" (from the Fiestas + Fiascos album, The Self-Starter Foundation, 2000)
183. the Hold Steady - "Cattle and the Creeping Things" (from the Separation Sunday album, Frenchkiss Records, 2005)
184. Lifter Puller - "Half Dead and Dynamite" (from the Half-Dead and Dynamite album, Reckless, 1996)
185. the Hold Steady - "Slapped Actress" (from the Stay Positive album, Vagrant Records, 2008)
186. Lifter Puller - "Sherman City" (from the Half-Dead and Dynamite album, Reckless, 1996)

And you thought I was a Mountain Goats fanboy.

I put on Separation Sunday today and I realized that I've been putting off this post long enough and got to it. Craig Finn, formerly of the mighty Lifter Puller and currently of beer-case shredders the Hold Steady is probably my favorite lyricist and one who is lucky enough to have had two bands good enough to make his lyrics actually matter. In Half-Dead and Dynamite, Fiestas + Fiascos, and Separation Sunday he's been behind three of the best rock albums of the past two decades. His lyrics tick all the right boxes I always go for. Booze, check. Intertextuality, check. Specificity, check. So here's a selection of my favorite Lftr Pllr and Hold Steady songs in a convenient playlist and, why not, some more of my bullshit.

When I started listening to Lifter Puller they had already been broken up for a few years. I was in high school and somehow hadn't discovered the glory of alcohol yet (amazing as it sounds, I went through high school sober), but I figured that, man, these Lifter Puller kids sure would be a good soundtrack if I ever did choose a life of booze and drugs. These are the type of things my stupid high-school ass thought. Let's move on.

There are two major differences between Lifter Puller and the Hold Steady. The lyrical on is the amount of religious imagery in Hold Steady songs. There's a lot. The more important and obvious one is musical. The Hold Steady is slightly reconfigured classic rock, huge guitar solos, piano accompaniment, Thin Lizzy riffs and Springsteen movements. Lifter Puller is aggression with the occasional groove, the occasional mathy drum part, the occasional out-of-nowhere chord switch. But they both work exceedingly well as a background to Finn's barking, occasionally apoplectic delivery.

And the lyrics that delivery delivers are probably the best thing about these bands, so let's get to em. The characters are largely lowlifes doing lowlife things, grasping at fleeting glories and sinking into despair but mostly just living their sometimes fucked-up lives. Some characters run through Lifter Puller's whole discography: chief among them Night Club Dwight, a drug dealer/club owner/businessman whose club is eventually burned down (or is it) at the end of Fiestas + Fiascos and Jenny, a sorority girl who goes to the city and starts partying hard. "I never saw the sun rise, until I met all you guys," she says on "Back in Blackbeard". There's Juanita and the eyepatch guy. In the Hold Steady we get Hallelujah and Gideon.

The intertextuality: there are writers (Berryman) and TV shows (the Rockford Files) and actors (Gazarra/Rowlands) and bible verses (a ton of them) but there are tons and tons of other bands and songs. The awkward high school girl in "the Pirate and the Penpal" gets hope from Dinosaur Jr. guitars. The debauchery in "To Live and Die in LBI" is soundtracked by 2 Live Crew. In "Sherman City", the narrator tells Juanita things that "sound the way that James Brown sings the 'Sex Machine'". Finn writes fantastic characters, really he builds fantastic worlds out of these characters and the very specific places they inhabit (geography is an obsession).

It took me more than a year of living on the East Coast to figure out what "Peter Pan-ed into NYC" meant and I laughed to myself when I got it. Finn's lyrics don't require research (or obsession), but I think they reward it. Which is not to say they aren't also great pop, and great stand alone songs. "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" is on the Hold Steady's strictest concept album, but even it stands wonderfully as a catchy, meaningful pop song. I suppose I'm being kind of a dolt in highlighting the references and recurring characters. They're really not the main reason to listen this stuff. Let's start over.

Among many of the magical qualities of Pop is the ability to make you feel things through bullshit that complete strangers sing, complete strangers who sometimes are nothing like you as far as attitude, demographics, or whatever, and are singing about characters who are nothing like you as far as attitude, demographics, or whatever. I think that more often than not Lifter Puller and the Hold Steady both connect with me. The narrator in "Modesto Is Not That Sweet" is a prick, sure, and is saying "I told you so" more than anything, but there's the part of him that still cares that is heartbreaking. And the folks running from the Nice Nice when it gets raided make me want to run with them. And the takedown of nostalgia in "Positive Jam" is thrilling. And the self-destruction in "To Live and Die in LBI" does seem kinda fun, and that doesn't mean it's being glorified, and "Feels great! Gonna dance all the way to the ending" is a perfect way to end that song.

I just really like these songs is all.

(PS, Fiestas + Fiascos and the Soft Rock, a collection of most of Lifter Puller's non-F+F material, are available at Amazon MP3. However, their official site seems to indicate that there is an Antology(!) and a book(!!) coming out this year. Stay tuned)

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