Presto chang-o

Lifter Puller, we hardly knew ye.

by Keri Carlson

Could it be? Is that the voice of Craig Finn? Is that Tad Kubler’s signature sliding quick stop guitar? Could this be a hidden Lifter Puller track, never before released? Or – gasp – is this new Lifter Puller?!?!

Yes, this is the voice of Craig Finn and the guitar stylings of Tad Kubler – both members of one of the most beloved Minneapolis bands since the Replacements, the now departed Lifter Puller. But sorry kids, this is not LFTR PLLR. This is the Hold Steady.

“The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me” is a bit of a tease at first because it could easily pass for a Lifter Puller album. Most of this is because of Finn’s unique snarling yet cartoonish speak-sing vocals. Finn has an instantly recognizable voice, making it the first thing you notice in any project that he does. The Hold Steady has none of the illustrious reoccurring characters or places Finn created in Lifter Puller – looks like the Nice Nice, Night Club Dwight, Katrina and (sniff) the Eye-Patch Guy are as good as dead. Despite the loss of these characters, which seemed to define Finn’s songwriting, the Hold Steady’s lyrics are familiar and still distinctly Finn.

The second song on the album, “The Swish,” proves some things will never change. Finn sputters a list of characters’ names and then what their friends call them, something he did with Lifter Puller. None however, were ever as clever as, “She said my name is Steve Perry but people call me Circuit City / I’m so well connected.” Finn then revisits this theme later in the album with a small twist on “Hostile, Mass.” where he shouts, “Hey my name is Corey / I’m really into hardcore / People call me hard Corey / Don’t you hate these clever people and all these clever people parties.”

Of course, this Finn wouldn’t be the same Finn if the lyrics were not full of tales of disillusioned Finns searching for answers in bars, drugs and sex only to end up in strange places in the morning. The Hold Steady retains Finn’s bitter cynicism of those who escape to the night life.

Though the lyrics and themes of the Hold Steady are similar to Lifter Puller, there is something a bit different about them that is hard to place. With Lifter Puller, Finn created an imaginary world which his lyrics gave an insider’s perspective into. The Hold Steady doesn’t seem to have its own world. Now, however, it feels as though we get to hear the voice of Finn, not only characters. When Finn sings lines such as, “She said it’s good to see you back in a bar band, baby/ I said it’s great to see you’re still in the bars,” you take them to be much more autobiographical than anything in Lifter Puller.

It’s easy to get caught up in just Finn’s role in the Hold Steady because his lyrics are so unique and enthralling. But Finn’s songs would not be half as glamorous if not for the rest of the Hold Steady. The band adds the perfect amount of cheesy keyboards, saxophones and guitar solos to capture a dingy bar scene. The contrast between Kubler’s high-pitched quirky guitar beeps and Galen Polivka’s low rumbling bass make the songs on “Almost Killed Me” come to life.

We might always miss the characters of Lifter Puller, but now with the Hold Steady, there’s a whole other world of dark seedy night life to be explored.