Nightclub jitters

A Minneapolis band explores the underworld and redeems the concept album.

"FUCK YEAH!" says a happy Craig Finn when asked if he's really quit his day job. The singer and guitarist for Minneapolis quartet Lifter Puller had been working at the trading desk in the brokerage department at American Express for six years. "It was pretty stressful with the way the stock market has been in the last couple years."

Lifter Puller

Crocodile Cafe, Wednesday, May 24

Does this mean that after five years, Lifter Puller are finally making a living off their music? "Hell, no," Finn says with a laugh. "I suppose we could eke out a living from it if we were on the road a lot. And we have been picking up the touring. But I've been married since August, so I can't see that happening. I'll probably go back to my job eventually."

If there's any justice, Finn won't have to rejoin the workforce anytime soon: Lifter Puller's new Fiestas + Fiascos (Frenchkiss/ Self-Starter Foundation) is one of the year's most addictive albums. The album's tough sound comes closer than ever to capturing the band's uproarious live energy. Drummer Dan Monick, guitarist/keyboardist Steve Barone, and bassist Tad Kuebler whip up a joyful noise reminiscent of a hookier, less atonal Archers of Loaf, over which Finn lays down a word-count that rivals just about any hip-hop record in recent memory. Not bad for an album that clocks in at just over a half hour.

"I'm kind of a lyrics nut," Finn admits, counting early Springsteen, Morrissey, the Fall's Mark E. Smith, and Mos Def among his favorite wordsmiths. "A friend asked me to help write some lyrics for a song, and I kept coming up with all this stuff. He said 'You can't fit all that in, it's too many syllables.' And I said, 'Wanna see me?'"

Finn's skill with words helps ensure Fiestas' thematic coherence. It's a concept album, chronicling a handful of characters—several of whom also appeared on the band's previous releases, 1997's Half Dead and Dynamite and 1998's EP The Entertainment and Arts—as they embark on the most debauched evening of revelry this side of a Fourth of July weekend at the Kennedy compound.

"I've always been fascinated with the emptiness of club culture," says Finn. "Hipsterism in dance and rock club culture—the highs and crashes of that, coupled with a fascination with the underworld or underground. Have you ever read [Thomas Pynchon's] The Crying of Lot 49? It had a lot to do with that, an underworld that you don't even know about."

Like a good reporter, Finn did his share of research for the album. "If you go to a club, and you're from the suburbs, all you see are a lot of bright lights and loud music. But if you're there seven nights a week, you notice that that guy's a drug dealer or that guy's here too much."

Despite Lifter Puller's punk background, Fiestas is just as much about dance as rock culture. "I have a DJ friend who does a drum-and-bass show on the radio and started taking me to raves," he says. "And I really enjoyed it, in the sense of being an outsider. Partly it's age—I'm 28, and everyone around me was five years younger or more. But it was fun being a voyeur. And then walking out at 8 in the morning and just being nailed by bright light is surreal."

Nearly as surreal was meeting longtime hero Joe Strummer—who, as it turns out, is a Lifter Puller fan. "He was really great, and he was totally hammered," says Finn. "He looked great for someone his age. I hope he doesn't get that drunk every night. Of course, the irony with Joe Strummer, if he's complimenting you, is that he's really complimenting himself, because he made the whole damn thing up."

 
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