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Meat Puppets At Le Poisson Rouge, Friday, November 4th, 2011 Reviewed

Thirty-two years into their career, the Meat Puppets came to New York and performed a set that took them from a George Jones cover, to an early SST era worki out, to all three songs performed with Nirvana at the legendary MTV Unplugged concert, through erstwhile Grateful Dead jams, skronk, white noise, speed metal and punk rock. Who are these guys?

Meat Puppets are the last SST band standing, despite careers, indeed lives, that read more like a Southern Goth novel, and long periods of inactivity, the brother's Kirkwood, Cris on bass and brother Curt on guitar can still bring it hard. At Le Poisson Rouge on Friday night, joined by second guitarist Curt's  son Elmo Kirkwood and drummer, Doug Sham who rips off his shirt and never puts it back on, Curt and Cris did what at some points we thought we'd never see again: a great Meat Puppets set.

As a band, Meat Puppets used their Arizona roots to dig into their country heritage: all that Meat Puppets II stuff comes from tthere, and on stage, the ages having taken a toll upon them, they look like refugees from the Grateful Dead and they also sound like refugees from the Grateful Dead: an intense and competent country jam band with the blues bled out replaced by a punk built gerrymander of guitar where the brothers can jam endlessly on a riff. MP always hit me as a psychedelic swamp thing, but I wasn't paying attention. These guys music is deep in their roots and the first 45 minutes are pure country jams and completely brilliant.

In an interview wih Kevin Ranson, Curt mentioned that his son was a better guitarist than he is, perhaps, but not last night. From the instrumental "I'm A Mindless Idiot" thru a dastardly "Lake Of Fire" the band is both fast. smooth, jagged and pummeling; taking time to whistle through "The Monkey And The Snake" along the way. The covers fit in well, George Jones, Freddie Fender, and a penultimate trad "Sloop John B"., and the three songs Cobain covered, "Plateau", "Oh Me" and set ending "Lakes Of Fire" illuminate both songwriter Curt and dead icon Kurt. Especially, "Lakes Of Fire" where K's doomed romantic is replaced by C's singing from the depths of hell. Essentially, K transformed C's metaphysical horror into emotional damage.

The set included 5 songs off Meat Puppets II but only 2 from Too High To Die and Up On The Sun -since High was their biggest hit(and since we only got one track off the new album Lollipop) the exclusion is strange.

It's cool. We are there for the interaction between the brothers and Curt's guitar and we get lashings of both: the brothers are very close, Cris is a great bassist and carries every riff in tandem with Curt ; Cris is not a traditionalist, he isn't holding down the bottom but rather is opening up, improvising and filling the gaps around Curt's very clean guitar parts. Curt is a legendary guitarist and though Kurt  might have seen him as a folkie in waiting, he isn't. Curt is a country rocker who has dropped acid and is at his best not on white noise manifestos but rather where he takes a guitart lick or a melody line and allows it to evolve.

I don't know Meat Puppets material that well, and around the 60th minute my attention began to wander, but the ending was very very good. With Cris back in the band for five years now, they have recorded three good albums and they are much better live than on record. If Meat Puppets wanted to make the point that with the brother's  together they are now a  vibrant, powerful and great rock band nearing the peak of their powers, consider the point made.

Grade: A

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