Detail of an illustration from the Famous Artists Course by Bernie Fuchs, 1967
The Lifter Puller discography has been re-released in digital format, and I think everyone should check it out. That's right - everyone.
The Minneapolis band's successors, the Hold Steady, have done really well for themselves, but this is one case where the progenitors are worth checking out as well. Years ago, I somehow ended up with a copy of Lifter Puller's Soft Rock collection, a 2-CD set containing the band's first two LPs, and EP, and some miscellanea. It's a really solid collection of the rough-and-ready talk-sing indie-rock that fans of the Hold Steady will already be familiar with, but the impressive thing about the early Lifter Puller releases is how they work like an anthology, telling a series of stories from a specific time and place in a very distinctive narrative voice. I don't claim to be able to pin down what makes good lyrics, but what Craig Finn was doing in Lifter Puller pretty much nails it for me.
Oddly, I've never gotten any of the Hold Steady releases - I think I'm afraid that they wouldn't meet my expectations, being from Finn's post-Twin-Cities period. But I think that the new Lifter Puller reissues are well worth getting. I'm going to buy Fiestas and Fiascos ASAP - it's the one Lifter Puller album I've never heard.
My all-time favorite Lifter Puller song is "The Pirate and the Penpal", an outtake recorded prior to the band's second album, Half Dead and Dynamite. It's a pretty good example of the kind of storytelling Finn was doing with Lifter Puller (as well as displaying the band's knack for creating an evocative and atmospheric musical backdrop.) It's got everything you could want in a short story - a teenage protagonist, a crime spree, a strawberry stand, and a Dinosaur Jr. reference.
"The Pirate and the Penpal" by Lifter Puller