Bottom of the Hill
January 17, 2008
Review and Photos by Mike Rowell
Better Than: Spending the night in an Arizona jail. Way better.
Living in Arizona during the '80s, I had a front-row seat for the Meat Puppets' early career, as the Kirkwood brothers (Curt on guitar, Cris on bass) and drummer Derrick Bostrom evolved from screeching hardcore blast unit to the godfathers of "cowpunk" they're considered today.
I once watched Curt break most of his strings and continue playing while opening for Black Flag, and another time witnessed him endlessly rocking back and forth on a pair of wah-wah pedals. It was that sort of untethered insanity that enthralled me back then, and when the Meat Puppets started to lose that, they started to lose me. They carried on despite my lukewarm interest, eventually jumping to a major label, scoring a minor hit with "Backwater," and having three songs covered by Nirvana on the MTV Unplugged album. (Then Cris did a rather spectacular drugs 'n' subsequent prison flameout, which he didn't truly come back from until 2006.) But my fondest Meat Puppet memories date back a quarter-century or more, so it was with some apprehension that I attended this reunion of the Kirkwoods, along with new drummer Ted Marcus.
Openers Shaky Hands came out of the blocks at 9:05, and played to a quickly filling house (the show was sold out). The Portland quartet's tightly composed, bouncy garage-pop rock kept the assembling crowd placated, and the band received a goodly amount of heartfelt applause. Worth seeing next time they pass through town.
Next up was Trainwreck Wranglers. These Western-shirt-sporting locals are definitely bucking to carry the Meat Puppets cowpunk torch, and they might well deserve it. The band's stuff has a definite country edge, but youthful energy and innovative songcraft made for a nonderivative act that can hold its own opening for legends and is actually a lot of fun to watch.
At the beginning of the Meat Puppets set, Curt came out with an electric/acoustic Gibson. This raised the specter of some sort of laid-back "unplugged" set, but he proceeded to rock full-bore for the duration on that guitar. Bassist brother Cris looked relatively hale and hearty for a guy who came out of a serious rough patch not so long ago, and was given a warm "welcome back!" by several members of the crowd.
Over an hour and a half, the band drew heavily from vintage-era Puppets, in particular the classic Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun albums. Favorites like "Lost" and "Plateau" were given a fresh spin, and a blazing version of "Lake of Fire" turned the old-school mosh pit into a near riot. Plus there were some surprises, including a rendition of the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows," of all things, and Cris singing the Louvin Brothers' "My Baby's Gone."
Watching the two brothers perform their signature dual harmonies, it became obvious how important the sibling interplay is to the Meat Puppets overall sound. It was heartening to see my hometown heroes back in form once more: Welcome back indeed, Cris.
Personal Bias: The record release party for the Meat Puppets' first seven-inch EP at the infamous Mad Gardens wrestling rink in Phoenix was a life-altering experience for me.
Random Detail: The mosh pit got unhinged at times; at one point some guy was waving a shoe in the air.
By the way: Current Meat Puppets drummer Ted Marcus met the band while working as soundman on an upcoming group documentary.