- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Like a lot of people, I first discovered the Meat Puppets through Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York. Cobain had invited brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood to perform with them, introducing a whole generation to the wonders of ‘Plateau’, ‘Oh, Me’ and ‘Lake of Fire’.
Fast-forward 25 years and the Puppets have just released their fifteenth studio album, Dusty Notes. If, like me, you haven’t been following the brothers Kirkwood as closely as you should have been then tonight’s performance offers an excellent chance to catch up.
Bleedin’ Noses help to get us into the swing of things with an electrifying set of punkified country. They’ve travelled up from Blackwood in South Wales, braving the “rain and treachery of the M5” just to be here tonight. A foot-stomping Monday night hoedown to get us started here at the Brudenell.
Vocalist Oliver Ashton plays acoustic guitar and banjo, his voice a full-throated holler. These are country songs played with punk-rock conviction; six of them on stage all going hell-for-leather. Great songs delivered with buckets of passion, sweat and energy.
There’s a considerable musical shift with the arrival of tonight’s second band, Dublin’s Munky. As they explain, “we’re Munky, it’s spelt like funky but with an M”. The band delivers a set of socially conscious, unashamedly silly and increasingly funky indie-rock.
I’m not entirely sure what I make of it all at first but by the time they get around to a song about mental health and Bootsy Collins, I’m thoroughly sold. “When I get my money back” sings excitable vocalist Zachary Stephenson “I’m a gonna get a raspberry ripple”. Well, alright then!
They finish with ‘One in Five’, an angry and passionately delivered song about victim blaming that hits you square in the chest. Stephenson howling the songs devastating refrain, “no one would believe you anyway”. It’s an unexpectedly powerful song to end an impressively varied, musically ambitious set.
Meat Puppets have always been something of a family affair; formed by brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood, along with drummer Derick Bostrom, back in 1980. Other members have come-and-gone but tonight it’s the original line-up with the addition of Rob Stabinsky on keyboards and Curt’s son Elmo on second guitar. Elmo joined the family Meat back in 2011.
For a band that has experienced a fair amount of trauma over the years, there’s something innately uplifting about their strange, damaged and psychedelicised cowpunk. I feel pretty exhausted tonight but it’s impossible not to smile the moment the band kicks in.
Opening with the hillbilly hoedown of ‘Comin’ Down’, the Kirkwood’s (and Bostrom) are on fine form. It’s such a good song, far too great to be confined to the back pages of the Great American Songbook. Those wonderful harmonies and that distinctive, charmingly ramshackle take on Country are just too good to resist.
‘Warranty’ comes next; a bouncy, insatiably catchy tune that sees the band’s fuzzy psychedelia bubbling just under the surface. The raucous, country punk madness of ‘Sam’ receives a huge round of applause. People, quite rightly, love this band. They seem to be enjoying the show too. Cris smiles and squints in the spotlight happily lost in every song.
‘Lost’ finds the band “lost on the freeway again” as they unfurl the nights first sizable wig-out while satisfyingly raw renditions of ‘Oh, Me’ and ‘Plateau’ are received like the well-loved classics they are. Nothing is delivered too straight though. A 10 minute ‘Up On The Sun’ begins as a catchy, almost funky alt-country toe-tapper before ending with the mother of all freak-outs.
A foot-stomping ‘Lake of Fire’ finds pockets of dancing breaking out in the crowd. It’s arguably the bands best-known song so it’s all the more exciting when it morphs into a lengthy, noise-ridden psych-jam. Tonight has been something of a revelation; I’ve been familiar with the Meat Puppets for many years but don’t think I’ve ever been this submerged in their world.
“Some things will never change” they sing on a barnstorming ‘Backwater’, for a band that’s been going - off and on - for nearly 4 decades it sounds particularly defiant. It’s been a euphoric and eye-opening performance. It’s The Holy Modal Rounders jamming the psychedelic country blues with Dinosaur Jr. It’s beyond easy categorisation. It’s the Meat Puppets and we’re lucky to have them.
Good review, love catching The Pups live!
Very cool - glad you got to see them. I saw them early on and it was pretty much a punk show, which was fine with me. Good to see them still going strong.