Friday, July 10, 2009
Meat Puppets still got it
I had plenty of time to wonder what the Meat Puppets would be bringing to the table, or to the stage, as it were, last night at the What's Up Lounge. Nothing against opening acts, Machine 22 and Captain Eleven, but I was on duty for the paper with the mission of reviewing the Puppets, so, knowing the show started at 8, I left my house at 9:30 hoping to get there as the second act was finishing up. No such luck. The first act wasn't even nearing its end.
So for a couple of hours I mingled a bit and watched as Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets wandered in and out of the room of 150 people or so, dressed for a book club meeting, or a jaunt to the mall, in faded gray jeans and an even more faded button-up shirt, his long gray hair tied loosely back in a ponytail. In this room of mostly 20-somethings, with a few easily identifiable Meat Puppets fans from way back (sitting calmly in skirts and slacks toward the back of the room), Cris stood, sipping a drink, bothered by only one fan for an autograph. Otherwise, it was unclear if I was one of a handful who knew who he was.
Twenty-nine years. That's a hell of a long time to be doing this. I sat with the band's tour manager, who informed me this tour was about getting back to the band's roots doing club gigs. More contact with fans. This was the first time the band ventured outstate in Minnesota, having played only in the Twin Cities. In addition to Mankato, Duluth and Rochester were also on the roster.
It's a cool idea. After all this time and experience, with a great new album of material to play, the band would choose to play smaller, more intimate gigs for the fans. Of course, one has to wonder if they had other options. I wondered if the trouble in the band's past had caught up with their fame, overshadowed the music. Cris's terrible drug addiction and prison time for assault, which drove a temporary wedge in the band. Would this show simply be a band going through the motions? Surviving on name recognition?
Hardly. Halfway through their first song, "Sewn Together," the title track to the new album, it was clear these guys were here for themselves as much as the fans. The sound was much lighter than the first two bands that went on. The Kirkwood brothers sang in harmony. They weren't shredding their guitars and screaming into the microphone. In fact, if anything, their vocals were a bit subdued, with the intricate guitar work taking center stage. But they had an incredible energy, so obviously happy to be on stage playing together. There was a spirit about them, like they were grateful to be alive and to be a band.
I commented to a friend of mine I bumped into during the show about that energy. He said something like, "Compared to other bands that play here, though?" Immediately I thought of what Cris said on the phone when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago. The Meat Puppets had taught Kurt Cobain that a band's energy isn't about volume. It comes from the music. They proved that to be true last night. There was even some crowd surfing going on, which I certainly didn't expect from a band touring a quiet rock album filled with vocal harmonies.
Improv seemed to also be a big part of the show. Songs stretched on twice as long as the album versions, with the brothers playing off of each other to keep the music going. Even songs from "Meat Puppets II," made famous from the "Nirvana Unplugged" concert, were stretched almost beyond recognition. To Nirvana fans, songs like "Plateau" and "Oh Me" from "Unplugged" became Cobain songs with the success of that album. It was nice to see the Kirkwood brothers reclaim them.
Posted by Amanda at 7:30 AM