Lifter Puller at Red Rocks 9/2/16 and The Hold Steady at Riot Fest Denver 9/3/16

Chip Zepp Author on assignment at Red Rocks

The Hold Steady announced in May that they would be playing a “limited number of live shows” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of their most popular album, Boys and Girls in America, and reuniting with fan favorite keyboardist Franz Nicolay. [1]    I didn’t hold out any real hope that there would be a Cleveland show.   As it turns out, they weren’t kidding about the limited number.  Only three stops have been announced – Riot Fest Denver, Riot Fest Chicago, and a four-show run in Brooklyn.

Shortly after the Riot Fest dates were announced, it was announced that Lifter Puller would be part of the “Minnesota Takeover Live at Red Rocks” on Friday, September 2.   (Lifter Puller is Craig Finn – the lead singer/songwriter of the Hold Steady – pre-Hold Steady band.  They released three albums and a few singles between 1994 and 2000.   Like many (most?), I discovered Lifter Puller through the Hold Steady connection when I started following the Hold Steady in 2005.)

Denver?  Red Rocks?  Lifter Puller?  Music festival?  The Hold Steady?   Count me in.

“Let’s Get Incredible”

After short ten-mile Uber ride from downtown Denver and a long climb up a huge set of stairs, I had finally arrived at probably the most famous/loved venue in the U.S.  Of course, I had discussed it with friends that had previously visited.  I had read many reviews.  I had looked at many pictures and videos.

thumbnail_red-rocksBut even my lofty expectations were exceeded.   Red sandstone cliffs, breathtaking views.      I’ve been lucky enough to have attended a lot of concerts at a lot of different venues.  Without hesitation, I can say Red Rocks is the most incredible venue, certainly the best outdoor venue.  (An award for best outdoor venue was renamed the Red Rocks Award after it took the prize 11 years in a row.)

By the time we made it to the seating section, it was about half-full.  (Show was sold out.  All the seats were GA.)   Shortly after our arrival, Lizzo hit the stage with a cadre of over-sized dancers and a ton of attitude.  I had never heard (or heard of her) before, but her hip hop set was never boring.

The sound was amazing during the Lizzo set, so even though I usually like to get towards the center, I wasn’t concerned.  Rather than fight our way through the crowd, we decided to stay where we were – left of the stage in a standing room section — to await Lifter Puller.

“Here’s Everything I Remember…”

You’d never know that Lifter Puller has only played a handful of reunion shows since they broke up in 2000.  They sounded great.  The only rock band on the bill won over the hip hop crowd.  They played more of their “anthemic” material but Lifter Puller doesn’t really do the “sing-along songs.”   I don’t know how Craig Finn can remember these lyrics all these years later.


Half Dead and Dynamite

Live and Die in LBI

Lonely in a Limousine

Space Humpin

Secret Santa Cruz


Let’s Get Incredible

Math is Money

I Like the Lights

Roaming the Foam

Nassau Coliseum


Highlights were “Manpark,”  “Roaming the Foam” and the closer “Nassau Coliseum.”

Lifter Puller’s songs about drug deals, sleazy clubs, and sleazier owners were a strange fit for this scenic venue and a hip hop crowd.  But they won over some of the crowd with their energy.   Never thought it would happen.

“Came From Miles Around To Get Messed Up On The Music”

Day two in Colorado would take me to Day 2 of Riot Fest, a three-day music festival hosted on the sprawling grounds of the National Western Complex, home of the National Western Stock Show, rodeos, etc.

thumbnail_riotfestThis ain’t no Woodstock.  Caravans of sketchy vendors and traders.  Food trucks.  All set up in the oppressive heat in the acres of gravel parking lots.  Mohawks, piercings and lots of leather and black.  Reminded me of Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie.

The first band we saw was Against Me!  I had heard of them;  the hype has been deafening since their lead singer/songwriter publicly came out as a transgender woman in 2012.  They were a big hit with the crowd but it didn’t do much for me.

The Hold Steady was next on the Roots Stage so I hung around to ensure a good spot.  The hot sun and a noodling set from Yo La Tengo on the stage next door was an oppressive combination but I stayed strong.

“There Is So Much Joy In What We Do Here”

This would be my seventh Hold Steady show.  I started wondering how this show would go.   I already knew they would be playing Boys and Girls in America in its entirety;  that’s not my favorite THS album and I don’t generally care for that gimmick or even knowing what song is coming next.  I enjoyed the Craig Finn solo albums more than the last THS record, 2014’s Teeth Dreams.   They hadn’t played together since February 2015 or with Franz since 2010.  Never as a six-piece.

The PA music roused me from my reverie.   I recognize that song.   It’s David Lee Roth.  “Yankee Rose.”  In Spanish.  Of course.  This is gonna be fun.

And it was.  The opening strains of “Stuck Between Stations” started.  I stopped overthinking it and enjoyed the damn show.  I remember seeing them with Franz at the Beachland in 2007 and 2010.  My recollection of those shows was correct – he brings a lot to the shows.  And Craig plainly enjoys having somebody to share the spotlight.  And contribute backing vocals.   And keys, and harmonica, and accordion.

They followed with the rest of BAGIA in order.  “Chips Ahoy,” “You Can Make Him Like You” and “Massive Nights” were all, well, massive.  “Party Pit” was an unexpected highlight.  Even “Chillout Tent,” (my least favorite song on this album) was great, with Jessica Louise Dye of High Waisted doing the “girl part” and Franz on the “guy part.”

As I hoped, they had time for a few more songs after “Southtown Girls,” the final track on Boys and Girls in America.  “Girls Like Status,” an outtake from the album we were celebrating was a natural choice.  “Constructive Summer” and “Sequestered in Memphis,”  from 2008’s Stay Positive album followed.  They reached back to Separation Sunday for the best Hold Steady song, “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.”  “Stay Positive” closed out the set.


Boys and Girls In America (in order)

Girls Like Status

Constructive Summer

Sequestered in Memphis

Your Little Hoodrat Friend

Stay Positive

The Franz reunion/six piece debut was a smashing success.  Finn’s energy and enthusiasm was contagious.  Just wished they had time for a few more songs.

 thumbnail_ths“Gonna Walk Around And Drink Some More”

We stuck around a little bit after the Hold Steady set.  DeVotchKa, “a four-piece multi-instrumental and vocal ensemble” plus happy hour pricing was an enjoyable enough combination.  Sleater-Kinney, the penultimate act of the evening, didn’t sound very good and were boring.   I’ve never listened to Ween but they seem silly and popular with jam band fans.  Not such a good combination.  We left for Trve Brewing Company, “Denver’s True Heavy Metal Brewery.”

“Good to see you back in a bar band, baby”

I’m not sure we’ll ever get another Hold Steady album, but I’d be very surprised if they don’t continue to play out, at least sporadically.  And when they do, you should go.

[1] Inexplicably, at the same time, they announced vinyl reissues of their first two albums – 2004’s Almost Killed Me and 2005’s Separation Sunday.  Supposedly, on November 11.  Not sure why they haven’t announced a reissue of BAGIA which was most recently a limited reissue for Record Store Day 2015. 


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