By Simon Weedn
In the annals of punk rock, few acts have had the roller-coaster-ride of careers to extent that Meat Puppets have had for the last thirty-plus years. The band has had exceptional highs, in the form of guest appearances on Nirvana’s critically acclaimed Unplugged In New York record, and extreme lows when the original line-up of the band dissolved due to substance issues. Even in the face of both popularity and obscurity, the band has always remained true to themselves and never settled for anything less than their own unique vision of things.
Formed in 1980 in Phoenix, Arizona by brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood on guitar and bass, respectively, and drummer Derrick Bostrom. The band’s wild, unhinged, erratic brand of punk rock quickly attracted the attention of the legendary SST Records and were quickly added to their diverse roster of bands at the forefront of the burgeoning hardcore punk scene. However, even from the beginning, the Meat Puppets’ music pushed the boundaries of what was considered hardcore at the time, sharing more in common with other experimental innovators like Sonic Youth and The Minutemen. Less with the more aggressive, established acts like Bad Brains and Black Flag. Additionally, the band’s style has always been in constant state of flux at times, drawing influence from the more abrasive sounds of some of their peers, while in other instances taking cues from country, folk, ‘60s psychedelia and jam bands. Yet, in all of the band’s genre bending music, is an underlying edge, energy and attitude which makes it distinctively punk.
Most recently, the Meat Puppets added yet another release to their already prolific catalog, a fourteenth studio album entitled Rat Farm. Much like the band’s last two outings, Rat Farm is filled with more straight forward rock and roll blended with country than the wild, mayhemic, punk rock that the band built it’s reputation on. However, that’s not to say that Rat Farm and what guitarist and singer Cris Kirkwood calls it’s “real blown-out folk music” sound aren’t captivating. The album has some cool grooves and sort of Grateful Dead-esque harmonies, and perhaps, most noticeably, a certain underlying simplicity to everything that Kirkwood says was, more or less, a goal for the record. “Sometimes I’ve wound up with a whole bunch of really complicated stuff and I’ve toned that down more recently for a few reasons,” Kirkwood explains, “I mean, it’s fun to do, but in the long run, in terms of how a song sounds overall, it doesn’t matter, it’s just frill.”
While the newer, less busy material, might turn off a few fans of the band’s earlier work, Kirkwood’s rationale for writing more simplistically is hard to argue with, “It makes it easier to get in there and play without your mind in it too much and just play as a band.”
As far as what can be expected from the band live on their upcoming tour, fans of both new and old material should have a lot to be looking forward to. When asked what the band anticipates they’ll build their sets out of, Kirkwood’s answer was just as simple as his approach to song writing, “Oh it’s just what everybody remembers, honestly, and we know quite a bit of it. We don’t have a set-list, we just have a list of songs everybody can remember, there’s not strategy there, it changes from night to night.”
For those looking forward to the band’s array of covers that they take on live, Kirkwood assures that there will be most likely new additions to that repertoire as well, “We just know so many of them [covers], we’ll be pulling those out, I have some good ideas for that, we’ll see if we can learn some new ones at sound check.”
With a new record out and a tour underway, it seems unlikely, even after three decades, that the Meat Puppets will ever slow down. And why should they? Unlike many of their early punk rock peers, the band is just as lively and authentic as ever. Though Rat Farm may not please everyone in their fan base, the album shows continued evolution in sound and a willingness to take chances and risks. Additionally, if you make the effort to see the Meat Puppets in concert, you will be rewarded by catching a band that takes those same chances and risks in a live setting which is, after all, part of what punk rock is all about.
Meat Puppets at Pappy and Harriets, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sun, Nov. 3. 9pm. $15.