Three Times the Rock

It was all a blur: Lifter Puller at the Triple Rock Social Club
Nathan Grumdahl

"I just took a shit in the men's room and it's brand-new!" exclaims Lifter Puller bassist Tad Kubler. He's walking around the new concert room of the Triple Rock Social Club, a high-ceilinged space that looks like the next groovy metallic bunker of Doctor Evil.

Six months ago, this spot was a patio and a parking lot next to the friendly neighborhood punk bar the Triple Rock Social Club (629 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis). Now, at 3:25 p.m. on Friday, June 6, the music venue is scheduled to open its doors in less than five hours. But Minneapolis's Lifter Puller, the art-punk poets reuniting to mark the occasion, haven't sound-checked yet. "The club's still being built," chuckles drummer Dan Monick.

Amid hobbyhorses, sawdust, and the whir of electric drills, husband-and-wife club owners Gretchen and Erik Funk appear cheerfully nervous. A Minneapolis city inspector is making the rounds with a clipboard. The handrails aren't quite up to snuff, Erik says, as interior designer Tom Oliphant prepares to re-drill the anchors.

In the back of the room, record producer (and former Selby Tiger) Dave Gardner bites off pieces of duct tape for the soundboard.

"You look frantic," Gretchen teases.

"When am I not frantic?" he says.

It was Gardner's sound design that gave the new room its futuristic sheen, Erik says. When combined with the recent and more stringent requirements for fireproofing, the usual soundproofing necessitated state-of-the-art materials.

Nobody doubts that the Triple Rock's expansion marks a new chapter in local rock 'n' roll--and not just the "post-club fires" era. For starters, Lifter Puller's three concerts this weekend are a farewell to fans. (One guy arrives by car from San Francisco, and displays Night of the Hunter-style "LFTR PLLR" tattoos across his knuckles.) Opener John Darnielle, a.k.a. the Mountain Goats, has driven from Ames, Iowa, to be part of this show. The first two nights sold out so quickly, and with no promise of a guest list, that even St. Patrick Costello, Erik's bandmate in Dillinger Four, was worried about getting in--"And I work here," he says. It's a citywide event: Later tonight, in St. Paul, the Turf Club celebrates by blasting Lifter Puller's final album on the PA.

Even before now, the Triple Rock was hip enough to generate its own punk backlash. (Bathroom graffiti at the nearby Hard Times Café once quipped: "The Triple Rock--a little slice of Uptown on the West Bank.") Since replacing Blondie's on December 4, 1998, the joint hosted Lifter Puller singer Craig Finn's wedding party (he sang J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" on karaoke). Atmosphere and the Soviettes have name-checked the bar in song. And Tuesday's two-for-one specials were the final nail in the coffin of First Avenue's Tuesday Club 2-4-1 night, which has since moved to Wednesdays.

In fact, the new Triple Rock debuts in a week when gossipers claim that First Avenue will close in August, a rumor that the older club's manager Steve McClellan denies. Stepping into the entryway to show off a gig-packed flyer, Erik says the doomsaying about First Avenue (and its 7th St. Entry) casts a pall over the celebrations at the Triple Rock. "We have a lot of things that the Entry might have otherwise done," he says. "But there's a whole bunch of other things that we couldn't get, like Melt Banana. We tried really hard to get that show and we couldn't get it, because those guys have history with First Avenue." Monarques singer and Triple Rock booker Nathan Grumdahl tells me later that the Triple Rock books bands that normally fly over Minneapolis--national talent is now secured by Chicago resident Brian Peterson, who also books that city's Fireside Bowl.

When Erik steps back inside the club, Gretchen has good news: The building inspector has given them the thumbs up. "Yes!" Erik says, raising his fists to the ceiling.

They've waited for this moment since the bar first opened, he says. "Originally we were looking for a place where we could do shows, have a full bar, and a full menu. The closest we came was a place where we could have full liquor, add a kitchen, and a big plot of land next to it that we could build on. So this is the whole thing kind of completing itself."

"Erik, you want to help me move this ladder?" Gretchen calls. And he's back to work.

Later on, as the original Triple Rock blasts the Soviettes' new album next door, a line grows outside for what tickets are left. When the white-clad Monarques finally kick off their opening set of dreamy psych-pop, the sound is Entry-level, at the very least. After the Mountain Goats play, Erik and Gretchen introduce the club and the headliners with little ceremony. The words "Lifter Puller" barely leave their mouths when the band tears into "To Live and Die in LBI," with Kubler, Finn, and guitarist Steve Barone jumping up and down as if testing the stage for structural flaws.

Few bands make so many references to local sites in their lyrics--Lifter Puller's version of Minneapolis sounds like a drunk limo driver hoping to impress out-of-town gangsters. But where Finn's fantasies might have little to do with the real Minnesota (the one he has left behind for New York), there's no missing the community here, as a cross-section of fans and musicians--that guy with the tattoo, a woman in garters, Atmosphere's Slug--screams back every word. For tonight, at least, the Triple Rock feels like home.

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