Monday, June 22, 2015

Meat Puppets at the Bowery Ballroom

Curt Kirkwood
As teenagers in Phoenix, Arizona, Curt Kirkwood and his younger brother Cris Kirkwood aspired to a career in motocross racing until Curt injured himself in a motorcycle accident. Curt then began playing guitar and Cris had already begun to play banjo. They began to play together in 1977. Cris switched to bass and they became a trio with Derrick Bostrom, a punk rocking drummer from their high school. They formed Meat Puppets in 1980. The three musicians moved to suburban Tempe, Arizona,  where the two brothers purchased adjacent homes, one of which had a backyard shed that became a rehearsal space. Meat Puppets struggled until the alternative current of the 1990s gave the band's psychedelic cowpunk a new audience. The band was featured in Nirvana's classic MTV Unplugged performance, which led to a hit video on MTV, a gold-certified album and an opening slot on a sold-out tour with the Stone Temple Pilots. Then the band fell apart. Meat Puppets broke up twice, in 1996 and 2002, reuniting again in 2006. Meat Puppets' 15th and most recent album was 2013's Rat Farm. The band presently consists of the Kirkwood brothers and drummer Shandon Sahm. Elmo Kirkwood, Curt's son, has been playing rhythm guitar on live dates since 2011.

Opening for Soul Asylum at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Meat Puppets frequently alternated between hard rocking psychedelic jams and scrappy country influences. The music was anything but slick, and the raggedy texture added to its appeal. The concert began with an instrumental, "Seal Whales," but even by the second song, Curt's vocal range was very limited, and he made little attempt to improve its sound. The performance was more about what could happen when noodly psychedelia guitar leads and country-twisted vocal lines are played hard and loud. Early in the set, Cris and Elmo began bumping into each other while playing a 12-minute version of "Up On The Sun", at one point knocking into their amplifiers, tilting the stack back to where stage hands had to run out and prevent them from toppling. The band's choice of covers was curious as well: the Texas Tornados' "(Hey Baby) Que Paso"; Freddy Fender’s "Before the Next Teardrop Falls"; Willie Nelson and Ray Charles' "Seven Spanish Angels"; and the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, cup of beer in hand, joined Meat Puppets for a hard-on-the-ears cover of Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights." Musically the evening was all very uneven, but the wackiness of it all made it that much more fun.

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