A Lean Night for the Meat Puppets

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the longest time, Meat Puppets bassist-vocalist Cris Kirkwood's biography might have been titled "Rock and Roll Cautionary Tale, Part 947." Strung out, gut-shot (literally, by a post office security guard; it's a long story) and locked up, his post-1995 r?sum? sounds like one of the sad-sack country ballads he so adores. But there he was at the Black Cat on Sunday night: clean, sober and howling a gloriously off-key version of Hazel Houser's "My Baby's Gone."

The Meat Puppets were one of the first bands to cross-pollinate country and punk, so it seemed -- and sounded-- right. But the audience needed to be more enthusiastic, and the club more than half-full, for this to count as a happy ending. Thus, the weepy, wonderful covers seemed apt. Cowboy Jack Clement's "Just Someone I Used to Know" boasted elder Kirkwood brother Curt's most scorching guitar solo of the night.

The Puppets' 90-minute set barely troubled itself with cuts from "Rise to Your Knees," their first disc of new material in seven years -- and the first with both Kirkwoods in even longer than that. Though Ted Marcus has replaced original drummer Derrick Bostrom, this is the most complete lineup the band has had in ages. Taking no chances, the brothers front-loaded the set with tunes from their mid-'80s masterpieces, "Meat Puppets II" and "Up on the Sun," playing and singing their hearts out for the indifferent throng of pocket-handed head-nodders.

Though the brothers barely spoke, their resigned glares when the audience failed to pick up the final chorus of "Comin' Down" pretty much said it all. That they played an encore including their lone chart hit, "Backwater," was more a tribute to their generosity than to the crowd's. Or maybe they just felt like playing some more.

-- Chris Klimek

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