I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite live bands of all time, the Meat Puppets on January 22, 2009 at the Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Meat Puppets are a band that changed my entire way of approaching music when I was introduced to their music by a friend in 1986. The Meat Puppets taught me that you don’t have to be perfect to be great and that having a personal style was more important than being the fastest guitar player on the planet. My favorite album by the Meat Puppets is “Up On The Sun” which was released in 1985. That year my ears really opened up and I became able to deconstruct the music that I listened to and understand how all the parts meshed to create a sum that was greater than individual parts. The Meat Puppets were very instrumental in the formation of my personal musical vocabulary. So I was very excited to see them perform in Salt Lake City.
As the band walked out onstage I was struck at how Cris Kirkwood has aged. Life has not been kind to him as he’s been shot, lost his wife to a drug overdose and spent time in prison. It showed on his face and he looks much older than his brother Curt now. That being said, he absolutely nailed his bass and singing parts. He has a fantastic touch on the bass guitar and it’s a testament to what a player can do with just a simple bass guitar and an amplifier to watch him play. He made that bass come alive with his playing and his playing is the perfect compliment to Curt Kirkwood’s guitar playing. Cris and Curt are brothers and their voices are very similar when they sing. Because of that the harmonies have a silky quality that is a real pleasure to listen to. They both sang well and they have a unique sound and style to their vocals. They probably wouldn’t stand a chance on American Idol but that’s not what the Meat Puppets are about. The Meat Puppets make THEIR OWN music and they don’t try to fit the mainstream music industry. I personally love that kind of musical integrity.
It’s been said and printed hundreds of times that Curt Kirkwood is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. I couldn’t agree more. Again, his playing is techincally proficient in the extreme but he’s not of the Van Halen or Steve Vai style. He has his own distinct sound and style that set him apart from the legions of guitarists out there. It’s a pleasure to listen as he creates soundscapes and also lays down some ferocious licks. He’s not afraid to take chances live and he does lay down a nasty solo here and there but it just serves to offset the beauty he captures when he nails it. He’s just a fantastic guitarist and also a unique singer. Another oft overlooked talent is his whistling which he did very well during the show on this night.
Ted Marcus, the new drummer, did a great job of keeping the beat going for Cris and Curt to work their magic. Ted played his butt off all night long and by the end of the night his shirt was drenched from the effort. He really knew how the drums fit in the Meat Puppets music and he is a great fit for them.
The show was really a thing of beauty. The Meat Puppets work together as a perfect team and it’s awesome to watch the interplay between them onstage. Watching Curt ask the others what they wanted to play and watching how the used eye contact with each other to go from song to song was really entertaining. We were so spoiled to get to see them in an intimate room with only about 200 other people. I felt bad that they weren’t rocking a full arena of 20,000 people but I felt very luck to be able to lean on the front of the stage and just bask in the music coming from 8 feet in front of me. The show ebbed and flowed with moments of brilliance and plenty of improvised jamming as well. They played all their biggest hits and the crowd loved every minute of it. The Meat Puppets are proof that some bands are just plain better live than they are on a recording. If you get a chance to see them when they come to your town, take it! They are truly a great band to see play live.