When the Meat Puppets Reunited for the First Time in Eleven Years
Midway through their March 14, 2007 SXSW gig, Meat Puppets bassist Cris Kirkwood told the crowd, “This just happens to be the first time in eleven years that Curt and I are gonna play together, so.” A roar reminiscent of a NASCAR rally echoed through the small, outdoor club, and Cris raised his arms, both visibly dotted with the white scars of old burns and needle marks, in what seemed part gratitude, part inauguration. “It’s pretty coooool,” he chuckled.
Half bluegrass, half electric, the thirty minute set was part of a string of warm-ups leading to the July 17, 2007 release of Rise To Your Knees, the first CD Cris and his guitarist brother Curt recorded together since Cris’ spiral put the legendary band on hiatus. Hiatus. Cris was never kicked out, and Curt never retired the band. “I don’t have to check my interest in this shit,” Curt told me from his Austin, Texas home the week before the show. “It doesn’t seem old to me in any way.”
Formed in 1980 in Phoenix, Arizona, the Meat Puppets built their reputation on a carefree embrace of experimentation and evolution. Self-satisfying creativity was job one. Before Uncle Tupelo ever provided the name No Depression to the now defunct music magazine and the this-isn’t-your-pappy’s-country-music sensibility, the Puppets were mixing country, thrash and Americana with hard-charging rock and Jerry Garcia-ish psychedelia. They played over-amplified versions of “Dixie Fried” and “Blue Bayou” in Phoenix punk clubs in ’81, and they covered everyone from Kris Kristofferson to George Jones at a time when singing to Hank Williams was still something to hide from your friends. In one show they plunged into The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” after Patsy Kline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” Along with the Brothers’ verging-on-off-key harmonies and Curt’s nimble guitar work, the Puppets’ one constant has always been change. Up On the Sun is a jazzy, jam-based trip into acid daylight. Huevos is guitar driven, ZZ-top rock. Too High To Die is catchy, moody and fuzz-heavy. “I don’t care if any of my fans want to hear anything,” Curt says of their music. “That’s not how this works. They have a good time at all the shows. The other side is completely self-indulgent stuff.” That fierce independence ─ making art for yourself, not your audience ─ certainly moved musicians…