It’s hard to believe that it has been two weeks since the Meat Puppets stopped in Chicago. The band played at Schubas, a neighborhood favorite known for its small den-like feel, modest stage, and decent sound. I managed to catch the trio on their second night of a three-night run.
It turns out Schubas was the perfect location to catch the band; the confined venue was straight up packed with fans. Many appeared to have been tracking the band for the last 20, if not 30, years. (I spotted many a vintage Meat Puppet tour shirts in the audience.) The Meat Puppets soon took stage and brothers Cris (bass) and Curt (guitar/vocals) Kirkwood humbly picked up their weathered instruments. Without any formal greetings drummer Shandon Sahm counted off a beat and the band hit the ground running.
Their set was casual. The most technical the show got was with guitar and bass pedals. It was clear that the band was playing to their peers, and what you saw was what you got. It was the musician’s vigor and technical ability that made the show compelling, at least when matched with the energy of the crowd--which was spinning, punching, and slam dancing in every direction.
The Meat Puppets’ sound boils down to alternative rock paired with a rootsy twang, all wrapped in a hardcore package. The band sounded at once separated and in-touch with their punk roots. As a trio they accomplished a lot sonically with minimal equipment. Curt worked his guitar and appeared to simultaneously scratch and pick the strings of his instrument, causing it to reverberate. His brother Cris thumped along on bass lending a continuous rumble to the music while Sahm steered the music’s drive with swift, yet steady drumming. Songs frequently drifted into extended jam sessions, further intertwining the Puppets' elements of craft and command. I was not expecting the band to jam as much as they did, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It took the music to yet another level, demonstrating improvisational skill while further separating them from their hardcore urges.
Their set continued, uninterrupted, for over an hour-and-a-half. Right before exiting the stage Curt extended a “Thank you” and that was that. While playing an array of songs that spanned their entire catalog, including the 1994 hit “Backwater” and selections off their latest release Sewn Together, what surprised yet delighted me most was the inclusion of “Plateau,” “Oh, Me,” and “Lake of Fire,” all tracks off of 1984’s Meat Puppets II. Those three cult favorites all gained mainstream appreciation thanks to Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged performance with the band. But what surprised me most was the fact that nearly every article/review on the band is linked to Nirvana and the infamous unplugged album. The band has so much more than those three songs to offer, yet they are hardly known for anything else. They are fantastic songs though and I, along with the rest of Schubas, could not have been happier to hear those selections.
Cris Kirkwood and Shandon Sahm