Released way back in 1982, the Meat Puppets’ self-titled debut made the Phoenix, Arizona-based group out to be nothing more than a group of scrappy, sun-baked kids willing to crank their amps to 11 and scream their lungs out.
“If you listen to the 7-inch and that first album you can hear hints of the direction we’re heading in,” says bassist Cris Kirkwood in a recent phone interview. The band performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, at the Beachland Ballroom. “There was already kind of a redneck feel. There’s some fingerpicking stuff too.”
With its second album, simply dubbed Meat Puppets II
, the band turned up the twang and quickly embraced the psychedelic rock and cowpunk that’s now a regular part of its sound.
The album caught the attention of a certain Kurt Cobain, who publically displayed his affection for the band when he brought the brothers Kirkwood onto stage to perform with Nirvana for a special Unplugged session that aired on MTV in 1993.
“It was really cool,” says Kirkwood when asked about performing with Cobain and Co. “It’s something you can see the significance of in hindsight more. To be so involved in something like that was great. Our contemporaries were like that. We were part of a youth movement that wasn’t specifically oriented towards commercial music. To see that voice suddenly reach a larger audience was interesting. Cobain loved the shit out of us. He was very gracious. It was just cool. It was a punk rock thing to do to use your newfound extreme popularity as part of the biggest fucking band in the world at the time and shove the Meat Puppets down people’s throats. Now that’s pretty fucking punk rock.”
In the wake of Meat Puppets II
, the Pups would refine their sound even more, alternately sounding like a punk version of ZZ Top on 1987's Huevos
and eliciting comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. with 1989's Monsters
. Eventually, the group would leave the indie imprint SST and sign to London, which released 1993's Forbidden Places
, 1994's Too High to Die
and 1995's No Joke
. Too High to Die
yielded the single "Backwater," the closest the band has come to having a hit, and the album went gold — thanks, in part, to the fact that the video was in heavy rotation on MTV. The band would go on hiatus in 1996, only to reform in 1999.
Kirkwood spent some of that downtime battling drug addiction and other personal problems while his brother Curt led the band.
“It was the love and support of a lot of people that were very gracious and giving,” he says when asked about what enabled him to get clean and rejoin the band. “It was my family, my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s family everybody you know? It was my fault. I fucked myself up really bad, and I hurt the people I loved real bad. I regret it horribly. There’s nothing heroic about it. I was locked up the last time for a fucking while. It was the longest stint, but I had been doing time in chunks for quite a while, and I found myself locked up for an even longer time. I was pretty fucking blown away when we did start playing again together.”
For this tour, the band, which also includes drummer Shandon Sahm (son of psychedelic rock hero Doug Sahm) and guitarist Elmo Kirkwood, has added music from its “middle period” that includes album such as Huevos
and Too High to Die
to the setlists.
“It’s just that we want to show the depth of the catalog and the depth of Curt as the composer,” says Kirkwood when asked about revisiting that time period. “There’s so much to choose from. Curt has written a buttload of cool songs. So we just wanted to bring some other stuff into the set. I mean we just play whatever we feel like playing. And it just seemed to be time to bring some of these things in, just that kind of fluid approach a little bit. It kind of works out we just have a body of songs that work well together. We have 'Frankenstein’s Monster' up and at ’em doing a jig across the floor.”
Curt Kirkwood has even said that the band sounds better than it ever has in its decades long career.
“It’s cool that he thinks that,” says Kirkwood. “We’re at a place that’s interesting to take that overview and see the progression of the band. Looking back now, it was just an interesting period for the band. At one point, we were psychedelic fucking wonder baboons, whatever the fuck. There was a certain period that when that was going and that was unique in and of itself. We started to figure it out and really perform and kind of have a show. The place that we’re at right now is cool and part of that is we’re a four piece now. It’s just taking us to another place. And now we’re taken more seriously. We’re kicking serious bootie. But it’s very musical right now and very satisfying. Now I think it’s a little more easy to ‘get.’ We’re not as intent on freaking ourselves out. It’s a little more chill.”
The Meat Puppets, Mike Watt + the Jom & Terry Show, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, BEachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $17 ADV, $20 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.