Sunday, November 18, 2007

SST Bands Live: Part One of Two

Meat Puppets--Cain’s Ballroom--Tulsa, OK--November 15, 2007

Originally hailing from Phoenix, the Meat Puppets are a trio fronted by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood who miraculously combine many seemingly divergent musical influences into a cohesive sound that is entirely their own. "Wait!" you say, "isn’t this the band who broke onto the radio market in the mid-90’s with the customary grunge/alternative hit ‘Backwater‘"? Yes, it is, and that was likely my first exposure to them, in the "Buzz Bin" days of MTV (remember?), followed by my hearing of Kurt Cobain’s renditions of the "Plateau"/"Oh, Me"/"Lake of Fire" triptych. I ran across them many years after that while digging around looking at Dinosaur Jr. albums (more on that in weeks to come). This concert at the Cain’s was my second time to see them in the last three months, the first time being an August show in Oklahoma City, and my familiarity of their music rests primarily on their first three albums: "Meat Puppets", "II", and "Up on the Sun." The first is practically hardcore 80’s punk, while the third is full-blown psychedelic-country rock music. Their second ("II") falls somewhere inbetween, and is what I would highly recommend anyone to start out with. If Garz and I still had a radio show going, I think we could easily put the music on that album up with anything else that emerges and is touted in the indie world today-- a far cry from the more-generic "Backwater" sound that may cause some to forget about them.

First, let me use some space to promote the Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa’s coolest concert venue! It has been around since 1924 and was home to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys for concerts and radio broadcasts! It has a slight feeling to me of being in an rickety barn with wooden floors, and portraits of old country stars like Hank Williams, Gene Autry, and Ernest Tubb are hung all around the room. It isn’t any atmosphere that will likely sweep you off your feet, but I think it has a good Okie, homey aura to it. And hey, the Sex Pistols played there on a rare American tour in 1978! I guess Johnny Rotten wasn’t too cool to come to Tulsee Town!

All that said, apparently the Puppets don’t draw a big enough crowd to play on Cain’s main stage (is simply referring to them as "the Puppets" a sign I have become a true aficionado? Like Phish followers calling themselves "Phans"???). This show was in a small square side room with tables and a bar. The band had to walk through the crowd to get to and from backstage, which was kind of cool. I saw some guy get them to autograph the liner notes of "II" that he had brought, and the fans could applaud them more as they passed through at the end of the night. Cris Kurkwood, the bass player, has an impenetrable mass of hair, and bobs around on stage constantly to win the award for being most like an actual puppet. He seems like he’d be a nice guy but when you see his face he is always squinting and grimacing like the sun is in his eyes, and from time to time gets these wild, furious looks on his face that couldn’t possibly be feigned. Curt Kirkwood, who does guitar and most vocals, reminds me of a sumo wrestler, not because he is fat, but has his hair pulled back in a tiny ponytail. He’ll scowl and look around at the air with his eyes like he is hearing psychotic voices or something. I say this about their appearance not only because I am absorbed in them, but also because I think it is somewhat representative of their music--there is a manic quality that underlies their sound and is what I think holds everything together. Maybe it takes said insanity to try and merge country and punk, but they do it successfully. They can even blare out something that seems like bluegrass, and many guitar lines sound imitating of a banjo. Throughout the show, they would additionally incorporate extended sonic jams into their songs (i.e., a seamless workout wedged into "Lake of Fire") that always seemed to have a purpose, not falling flat. It was generally an older crowd, I’d say about 100 people mostly my age (24) and up. It was good to be without most of the indie teenagers. My favorite tune was "Up on the Sun," because it included some jams, and I like the country buzz of the guitar line. I also enjoyed their playing of "Oh, Me." Although they didn’t play a long set, the Puppets do it all without sounding like a band that is way past their prime, and I can’t imagine them sounding much worse than when they last played in Tulsa, 25 years ago.

Check out "II".

1 comment:

charz said...

No one's too cool for Tulsee town