A strangely apt pairing: like the Cradle, the Meat Puppets have been a rock and roll institution, in certain circles, since the ’80s … and like the Cradle, which recently completed a massive renovation, the Meat Puppets have been through more than one incarnation in those thirty years of music. Whereas the Cradle used to sit in the space now occupied by the Nightlight, the Meat Puppets have had two Kirkwoods — and just one Kirkwood. They’ve made albums that were as much pure country as pure hardcore (II) and they’ve made albums that wouldn’t have been out of place in pop charts (2011’s Lollipop).
I hadn’t been to the renovated Cradle yet; I’d never seen the Meat Puppets live. I’d never paid much attention to the Meat Puppets, to be honest. I knew who they were but I couldn’t have identified any of their albums by title before a month ago; it turns out that I knew some of their songs, but I couldn’t have told you that they were by the Meat Puppets. Pam told me, though, that I would love Under The Sun and Pam is always right. I did love Under The Sun, and I loved Lollipop and Too High To Die, and I found II just fascinating enough to want to know more, and so there I went, courtesy their lovely publicist C.
And, like with everything Pam tells me to do, I wasn’t disappointed.
The Meat Puppets had always been one of those bands I slotted into the post-punk drawer in my head, the one I didn’t dip into very often unless I had good reason; what I was amazed, genuinely amazed, to discover last night was that, instead, they’re basically a truly phenomenal experimental country band. I am sure everyone else had this revelation 15 years ago, but, hey, sometimes I’m a little slow. Last night, what I was was blown away — it’s pure pop songwriting verse-chorus-verse and Texas twang, not surf rock twang, in the guitar parts and Cris Kirkwood’s bass playing. The Kirkwoods look a little rough, but they still play like nobody’s business.
I was absolutely staggered by their stage show; their musicianship, the hooks of the songs live, and the way that Cris and Kurt, on that huge Cradle stage that feels even bigger after the renovation, absolutely held the crowd in the palms of their hands. Completely phenomenal.
The Weeks, the second open, were a band full of skinny adorable baby punks from Mississippi; all Southern bands of a certain generation can get a little jam band-y for my taste (I blame Widespread Panic) and the Weeks are no exception, but they’re playing catchy pop punk with a striking ska underpinning to it. They reminded me a little of the Rumble Strips, actually (a British ska band that put out one spectacular album, 2007’s Girls & Weather), crossed with the Allman Brothers. Ska + Southern Rock played by boys who grew up listening to too much Verbena, and that’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d write.
Durham’s Bustello opened, and they play a delicious sort of gothic surf rock; bassist John Plymale mixed Lollipop for the Meat Puppets, which I assume is the connection here. I really dug them. I feel like I’ve seen them before somewhere, but I can’t put my finger on when or where or with whom. Dug ’em, though. Gothic surf rock, Southern ska-punk, and experimental country from a post-punk band: a great night.
Full set is here.