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Music / Lifter Puller

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L-R: Craig Finn, Steve Barone, Dan Monick, Tad Kubler.

"Post-punk E Street for fuckups clocking e-dollars."
— Robert Christgau's review of Fiestas + Fiascos.

Lifter Puller (or LFTR PLLR) was a cult 20th-century Art-punk/New Wave band of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, now known primarily for the early complexity of Craig Finn's lyrical work, as well as the instrumentation of the rest of the group—combining angular synths, a distinct lack of choruses/typical song structure, and, as Pitchfork described, being "all about the feeling of Now-Fucking-What Panic."

They're also known for being the earlier band of Craig Finn and Tad Kubler, who would both later form The Hold Steady.

During his time at Boston College, singer/songwriter Craig Finn taught roommate Steve Barone to play the guitar. Shortly after graduating and moving to Minnesota in 1994 Craig (alongside drummer Dave Gerlach and future drummer/group photographer Dan Monick on bass) would work to release two 7" singles: Prescription Sunglasses / Emperor, and Slips Backwards / Nassau Coliseum. Craig and Dan would later form the group along with bassist Tom Roach. After calling on Steve to move from his home state of New Jersey to the Twin Cities, the group began playing live shows around town, opening for acts such as Sebadoh at First Avenue. The first record, Lifter Puller, was recorded in 1994-95 but would only be released much later in April of '97.


Having had many years to hone their craft, the group would release their second full-length, Half Dead and Dynamite, only five months after the first. Musically, the album is similar in terms of basic setup: a noirish Indie rock that provides a chaotic but fully-fledged backing to a series of stories strung together by the roughly-voiced Finn. Barone would also switch from being a full-time guitar player to being a half-and-half guitarist/keyboardist.

Roach would leave the band the next year to focus on Grad school, while newcomer Tad Kubler would make his live debut on Halloween night, 1998. Shortly before his arrival, the group would release a quick-and-dirty EP, The Entertainment and Arts.

Kubler would instead make his first recording appearance on their final LP, 2000's Fiestas + Fiascos. Considered by many to be the groups most quintessentially "theirs," the album takes the previous tendencies of Finn's lyrics and instead spins them into a full-length Concept album, using references to earlier material ("Star Wars Hips") to create a fictional story of several Minnesota locals and the destruction of a nightclub known more for debauchery than dancing, the Nice Nice. Save the occasional quiet moment, say, to savor a crackhead's post-bathroom-coitus breathing ("Candy's Room") or to paint a stark image of abuse and consequences ("Katrina and the K-Hole"), the story is loud, vibrant, and ends in what sounds like your record player burning itself to death.


The band would break up that Summer. Finn (and later Kubler) would move to NYC and begin focusing on other projects. A compilation of their first two albums, as well as several rarities (and even a few new tracks), Soft Rock was released in 2002. At the time, it was the easiest way to access such a breadth of material (as well as access several compilation-only tracks). The group would also occasionally reunite around this time period, once in 2002 in New York City and once more in 2003 with the re-opening of the Triple Rock in Minneapolis.

In 2009, a book compiling lyrics, historical context, and stories alongside photographs of the band at the time (some from Monick, others from fans and the rest) titled Lifter Puller Vs The End Of was released as well as re-releasing the band's entire discography (save one lost recording, "Bitchy Christmas") digitally. Every song of theirs can be found from digital retailers now, including several live tracks from each of their non-debut releases. All of the bonus rarities from Soft Rock were released on a new album, Slips Backwards, which also included digital versions of previously vinyl-only singles.

One more reunion would follow in 2014 for the band's friends Dillinger Four at their "D4th of July" event, as well as two more in 2016—one at the "Minneapolis Showcase" at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, and once more opening for The Hold Steady (!) at their own "Brooklyn Bowl" reunion shows.

The band's official website still exists, at


Studio Albums

  • Lifter Puller (1997)
  • Half Dead and Dynamite (1997)
  • Fiestas + Fiascos (2000)

Extended Plays

  • The Entertainment and Arts (1998)


  • Prescription Sunglasses / Emperor (1995)
  • Slips Backwards / Nassau Coliseum (1995)
  • Star Wars Hips / The Mezzanine Gypoff (1996)
  • Bay City Rolling (2001)
  • 4dix (2001)


  • Soft Rock (2002)
  • Slips Backwards (2009)

Other Appearances

  • "I Like the Lights" appears on Cute But Deadly: The Big Sound of Now, Vol. 3 (1997)
  • "The Pirate and the Penpal" appears on Twin Town High Music Yearbook Vol. 2: 1998-1999 (1999)
  • "Manpark (Live)" appears on Stuck On AM Volume 2: Live Performances on Radio K (1999)
  • "Lifter Puller vs. The End of the Evening (live)" appears on Garage D'Or Christmas 1999 (1999)
  • "Back in Blackbeard" appears on Might As Well... Can't Dance (2000)
  • "Math is Money" appears on Hanging From The Devil's Tree: Your Flesh Magazine Compilation (2001)

Lifter Puller provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Typical of Craig Finn's work:
    "The kids want something new to get their eyes rollin' back into their dreams
    They want a cellophane celebration;
    a revolution rushing into dancefloor distribution."
  • Anachronic Order: The entirety of Fiestas, as well as the overarching story involving Juanita and nightclub fires.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Manpark" includes a break: live performances document the crowd yelling along with Finn during these lines in particular.
    "Power to the people makin' money with their mouths!"
  • The Bear: While gay bars and gay prostitution are common scenes in Lifter Puller songs, two songs in particular on Half Dead reference this: the aptly titled "The Bears," and again on "Hardware."
    "Thereafter, we'll refer to this
    As the last time you attempt to kiss
    Some fairy bear that you barely met
    Put your lips on his leather vest."
  • Break-Up Song: "Lazy Eye."
    "Let this be a testament
    to every lightbulb filament
    that burned itself out before it got turned on."
  • Broken Record: The ending of Fiestas is a constant loop of distortion. The vinyl version of the record even includes an infinite looping groove of such noise.
  • BSoD Song: "Katrina and the K-hole".
  • Cliffhanger: The ending of Fiestas, while not the end-all of the Lifter Puller narrative, is uncertain and dangerous nonetheless.
  • Concept Album: Fiestas + Fiascos, their last record, is built entirely around this trope.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than Craig and Tad's later band, The Hold Steady. Both Half Dead and Dynamite and Fiestas are much darker than their original self-titled LP.
  • Eat the Evidence: An order by the pimp who runs the sex/drug operation in "Manpark."
    "Katrina, this is serious
    Juanita, eat the evidence
    The manhunts always start down in the manpark..."
  • Epic Rocking: "Lazy Eye" is nearly eight minutes of breakup droning.
  • Hidden Wire: Used twice in the band's work. The narrator in "Star Wars Hips" is given a wire by the police in order to get evidence on Juanita's connection to the crime. In another track, "11th Avenue Freezeout", Juanita's boyfriend hires a detective who uses this method to spy on her possible infidelity.
    "Got my pants back, got a cash advance
    Got a tape deck, not the regular kind
    It's a secret, you can't see it
    You can't believe it, I'm the informant."
  • The Informant: See above.
  • "I Am" Song: From Fiestas, "Nice, Nice" establishes Nightclub Dwight as being the rapist, crackheaded owner of the Nice Nice that he really is.
    "One night Dwight got all goofy on the roofies
    Now they all call him the fiddler on the roof."
  • In Medias Res: A rare music example, the Half Dead and Dynamite opener "To Live and Die in LBI" opens with what sounds like the last few measures of a breakdown, and is introduced as an interruption.
    "Okay, I guess I'll pick it up right after the breakdown..."
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Juanita is revealed as a possible arsonist all the way back on 1996's Star Wars Hips, but it's never made positive until Fiestas four years later.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Sublet" from their first record begins this way—a bit interesting considering Finn's voice.
    "Guess it all started
    In your apartment..." (x5)
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Numerous times. From their self-titled LP, we have "Summer House":
    "The first week you were gone, I got so bored
    The first time that I scored was at a tennis court
    and it was green and empty."
  • Meaningful Name: Craig loves this trope. Katrina (or "Special K") fits perfectly considering her pill addiction.
  • Motor Mouth: Finn's been doing this from the start. The B-side to their first single, "Emperor", is an example all the way from 1994.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: The narrator in "Star Wars Hips" only reveals the connection of Juanita after the police use this on him.
    "Hey, Juanita, well I sold you out
    Got the pliers on my fingers and your name slipped out
    Didn't tell 'em 'bout your whereabouts
    Take the train downtown, get lost in the crowd..."
  • Myth Arc: "Star Wars Hips" introduces the story of Juanita, and is told from the perspective of a man warning her that he'd ratted her out after being captured by the cops, which is then expanded upon in Fiestas. Craig claims to have written the story down in its entirety during the early days of the band for the sake of consistency.
  • New Sound Album: Lifter Puller has a reputation for being a more generic College/Indie rock album than their later works. Half Dead, meanwhile, really began to expand on the darker storytelling and added Steve's keyboard work. Fiestas is the culmination of this approach, being almost entirely dark, story-driven, and with a very technical/synthetic bent to every track.
  • Non-Appearing Title: More often than not, the title has a loose connection to the track's content (if at all). Tracks like "Rock for Lite-Brite" have a connection to the punk band with a similar title in one of their songs, while other tracks like "Space Humping 19.99" are essentially "cool names" on their own with no connection to the track itself. In fact, only 17 songs out of their discography actually drop the title in the song whatsoever.
  • Post-Punk: The genre most commonly attributed to the band. Their lack of common song structures and use of synths on their later albums is much more clearly associated with the style.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: "Touch My Stuff", one of the more complex tracks off of Fiestas, has a varied time signature. At the end of one verse, Craig preps the listener for the upcoming section:
    "We are the troubadours
    And these are the news reports
    Here we are in the holy war
    Getting lost in the liquor store
    Making love to hardwood floors
    Now we go into the 4/4"
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: A few examples, such as the original version of "Lie Down on Landsdowne." Used at one point in "Touch My Stuff" from Fiestas to eerie effect.
    "And the Right Brigade, that's the funny thing
    It ain't just a money thing, it's a question of community
    The liberty, the ecstasy, the love, the drugs, the unity..."
  • Self-Demonstrating Song: Used to wonderfully dark effect on the final track of Fiestas, "The Flex and the Buff Result"'s latter half ends in what sounds like a nightclub prior to (and during) the arson, complete with "backroom dampening" effects.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their first full-length.
  • Single Stanza Song: The closing track on their first album, "Mono", has only one stanza before entering a progressively louder and louder noise-rock section.
    "We were talkin' on the hall phone
    You said your boyfriend finally scored
    Now I've got something they call mononeucleosis
    But Ill stay up if you wanna talk some more."
  • Shout-Out: Several, primarily to other bands and literature. "Secret Santa Cruz" (a Soft Rock rarity) and "Lifter Puller Vs The End of the Evening" (from Fiestas) include references to The Velvet Underground.
    "Woke up at some hedonistic rodeo
    With cowboys kissing cowboys, trading magazines for videos
    Yeah, God bless the radio
    all that fine fine music without all the messed up musicians"
    • Their first album name-drops the Gang of Four.
    • "Roaming the Foam" from Entertainment and Arts has several, from Guns N' Roses to Salt-N-Pepa.
    • "Let's Get Incredible" was created from an idea Finn had of writing a song that was composed entirely of these.
    • "Candy's Room"'s opening and title are references to the Springsteen track of the same name.
    • The ending of "Nassau Coliseum" was intended by Craig to be a shout-out to all of the friends he'd once had back in Boston and the locations they were in now.
  • Special Guest: As listed on Soft Rock, Slug 'raps' on "Math is Money."
  • Title Track: "Half Dead and Dynamite."
  • The Song Before the Storm: "Lifter Puller Vs The End of the Evening" is a relatively calm wrapping-up of the all character arcs shown throughout Fiestas prior to the final track, showing the sickness and consequences that are now taking their toll on the characters.
    "I'm pretty nice to my Lake Street vices
    One flat out begs me, the other entices
    And I'm nailed to the nightlife like Christ on the cross
    Got a terrible cough, my skin is like see-through
    I've been trying to meet you, dying to reach you
    It's too late for liquor but we could get some 3-2..."

"I want Nightclub Dwight dead in his grave / I want the Nice Nice up in blazes..."