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Meat Puppets @ The Mint 5/12/09

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Photo By Bobzilla for

Photo By Bobzilla for
Cris Kirkwood is having trouble. It’s the middle of his band the Meat Puppets’ record release party, and the big spazz can’t seem to control himself sufficiently to keep his bass plugged in. This time, he’s yanked two cords at once, and struggles to get it happening again while his brother Curt continues spewing out clouds of acid-damaged noise on the other side of the stage. Noticing something wrong, Curt helpfully saunters over, holds one finger up to his right nostril, and blows a booger out the left one onto his hapless sibling’s shoulder. Cris’ first instinct upon getting the whole thing humming once again is to slide the neck against the amplifier head and begin humping it Jimi Hendrix-style.

Things in Meat Puppets land are back to weird, a fact it gives me great pleasure to report.

The band’s 2007 return to the Troubadour was a very good, very welcome show, but they still showed some signs of rust and seemed to be adjusting to new drummer Ted Marcus’ inevitably different take on the songs. They had supposedly recorded a whole batch of new tunes, but played only one at at the show, which didn’t bode well for the eventual album. And in truth, the resulting Rise To Your Knees wasn’t the Kirkwoods’ finest moment.

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But something different seems to be at work with the new Sewn Together. The band was confident enough in its new material to play it in its entirety for the packed-out gathering, frequently blowing out the LP’s arrangements and giving the tunes new life through loopy improvisation. Of all the great guitarists to emerge in the SST era, Curt Kirkwood was always the most lysergic, and it’s nice to see that a lot of the new album lends itself to freer interpretation on stage. Better yet, the rhythm section seems up for it this time. Cris K. and Marcus have formed a more fluid connection, more closely approximating the perversely one-minded group thought that was the Meat Puppets in the late 1980s, a band that liked to twist its own compositions into unrecognizable smears, that could turn funky, progressive, yahoo two-step or horrendously obnoxious according to their collective whim, changing shape at the speed of thought.

Once they started playing their oldies, though, the already-high spirits in the room took a turn for the better. Last year, they did a handful of shows for the British All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at which they resurrected the 1984 classic Meat Puppets II in its entirety, so many of its high points were dusted off, along with a joyful, boisterous “Coming Down”, a high-speed romp through “Look At The Rain” and a truly epic, Crazy Horse-worthy exploration of “Up On The Sun.” The SST veteranos packing the front rows were shooting each other knowing looks, like, “It’s been a while since we saw this, eh?” while the younger members of the crowd mostly stared slack-jawed at the stage, as if unable to believe what they were seeing. One of them was so moved by the sounds, he couldn’t resist jumping on stage and doing a little Grateful Dead twirly-dance next to Kirkwood’s amp. It was a happy collision of the past and the future, new information from a familiar crew that’s predictably off its rocker, giving us what we want by giving us something we never could have imagined.