Meat Puppets Live

Dateline: 1984, somewhere in the Amerindie underground. An unruly crowd of Mohawks and shave-heads stand en masse gawking at the trio that took the stage a few minutes ago. Clearly, someone has made a grievous booking error. Black Flag is supposed to play tonight, so what the fug is up with this hairy-ass guitar-bass duo and their poker-faced troll of a drummer frammin’ on the proverbial sike-o-delic jim-jam, looking and sounding like one of Daddy’s old hippie-shit Blue Cheer recs?

Some two decades on the Meat Puppets may look different; the drummer retired and the bassist spiraled into a tragic haze of dope, leaving guitarist Curt Kirkwood to relocate from Phoenix to Austin and recast his band as a quartet. But on the evidence of this live disc recorded in February 2001, the years haven’t dented the sonic assault one whit. Kirkwood still yodels his warped tales of misspent stoned ’n’ sunbaked life like some punk-rock J.J. Cale, and his wah-wah encrusted, freakazooey fretwork is still the best full-on choogle since Jerry died. Old faves like the gossamer prog ballet “Up On The Sun” (Spirit meets Primus, anyone?) and the quote/unquote “anthemic” shanty waltz “Oh, Me” prove that in Kirkwood there still thumps the ticker of a classic-rock fan. A sleek, melodic newie entitled “Way That It Are” is all Who-style power riffs and Eastern-tinged keyboards. It’s immediately memorable enough in a hard-rock/power-pop vein to help dissipate any lingering bad vibes from the less-than-memorable 2000 comeback album, Golden Lies.

One extraordinary sequence pairs up the 10-minute “Fatboy/Fat Requiem” with Kurt Cobain’s fave Pups number “Lake of Fire”: the extended, effects-drenched ’tween-song jam is so brain-unscrewingly primal that it triggers all sorts of unplanned-for flashbacks — that 1984 gig included. So take cover, all ye third-generation punks, here comes the new boss, same as the old boss. Sgt. Kirkwood’s gunning for you.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].

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