The Hold Steady


Friday, December 26, 2014
The Hold Steady – “Killer Parties” from Almost Killed Me (2004 French Kiss)


It’s somewhat difficult to believe that the Hold Steady have been at it for ten years. When they debuted, the band seemed to operate as a sort of swan song for some old rock dudes elder statesmen of indie rock, most notably vocalist/guitarist Craig Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler from Lifter Puller.

I loved Lifter Puller. Their lyrics were hyper literate beat poetry homages to the seedier underbelly of my hometown of Minneapolis, complete with fictional locales (at real addresses), weirdo synth parts, and a solid punk/indie rock sensibility. Essentially, they fused many things that I loved, and did it well.

After they broke up I remembered hearing about how Finn moved to New York. Not long after that, he resurfaced as The Brokerdealer, some kind of weirdo techno project I never investigated. Then, silence, save for the time a friend mentioned in passing, “oh yeah, I did coke with all those guys before.”

Then, in 2004, at a time in my life when my wife and I would frequent the Triple Rock Social Club for po boys and libations, our waiter often sported a Hold Steady shirt, and I remember him excitedly explaining that they were “the new Lifter Puller band.” It had been four years since Lifter Puller broke up, and this was exciting news.

Perhaps most interesting was that the Hold Steady, while based in Brooklyn, retained the Minneapolis-as-muse narrative that had defined Lifter Puller, even if the music veered more into straight ahead rock territory than its predecessor had. “Killer Parties” is actually not about Minneapolis at all, but is still emblematic of Finn’s masterful storytelling. There’s just enough of a story there to get you filling in the blanks, and just enough left unsaid to leave you guessing. It’s a come-down song, I suppose, maybe a lamentation. Hard to say for sure, having never done the powdered drugs myself, but its positioning at the end of the album is perfect.

It brings back Charlemagne, a character from earlier in the album, and seems to touch on immigration (another lover lost to the restaurant raids and we heard about this place called the United States). It’s difficult to tell what Ybor City has to do with anything, but this stanza is repeated three times to close out the song:

If she says we partied then I’m pretty sure we partied
I really don’t remember
I remember we departed from our bodies
And we woke up in Ybor City.

The Hold Steady would later prove to disappoint, particularly live, which has always caused me a great deal of chagrin, as those lyrics continued to slay me long after the music let me down, with references to Profane Existence, Youth of Today, and a million other fun little Easter eggs.

This album, though, held so much promise, and that’s fun to remember.