May 13, 2022
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Co Dao
Grand 'Ole Opry Meets The Twilight Room
So, who says Friday the 13th is unlucky? Ask anyone in the Covid, rock-famished Dallas audience at the Kessler Friday night, and that ancient superstition just may have to be re-thought. First, we were lucky enough to get the Meat Puppets headlining.
They are currently touring with Mudhoney, and are alternating the opening and closing slots each night. When news broke midday yesterday that Mudhoney could not play at all tonight (thankfully), and that the Puppets would do an extended set was only icing on the cake. As a bonus, we also got the 3 members, mainstays the Kirkwood brothers, and now drummer Derrick Bostrom, back in the saddle for the first time since the 1995 No Joke album.
This bordered on the incredulous. The group was also augmented by Curt's son Elmo on second guitar, and for the first time in their history a live keyboardist, which I initially thought odd, but as the evening wore on, I eventually saw the light. Or heard it at least.
The band took the stage a little after 8:30, and went into what I thought was a strange set opener, "Comin' Down," what I feel to be a throwaway track from their most popular album, Too High to Die. This version fairly cooked though, and the crowd of about 400 soaked it up like a saltwater sponge in a heatwave. "Warranty," from the latest album in 2019, Dusty Notes, was dazzling, With Curt spitting out sparks in the lead break on his mainstay Les Paul.
It must be said that this album is as close as the Meat Puppets have come to so-called "Alt Country" that I have ever heard them. By the time they launched into a manic version of the tongue and mind-twisting "Sam," the house sound of the Kessler, a former Art Deco movie theater, was immaculate. Crisp and loud, as it should have been. "Oh Me," one of 3 songs the Meat Puppets performed with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana on the famous 1993 MTV Unplugged concert sent the mostly youngish crowd into a frenzy of delight. Another surprise, the instrumental "Seal Whales" followed and it became evident that the additional guitar (Kurt's lime green Strat from the reunion in 2007) and keyboard of Elmo and Ron Stabinsky really helped flesh it out. A scorching "Flaming Heart" showed why Curt is often called a "Punk rock Jerry Garcia."
His cosmic solo during this tune proved why no one should snicker at the comparison. Up-tempo yet predictable versions of "Lost," and "Plateau" followed. Predictable, because they are also featured on the MTV unplugged set. Cobain invited the Kirkwoods to do the show, which exposed them to a whole new audience, many of whom were probably in attendance tonight. "Up on the Sun," with more guitar work reminiscent of the Grateful Dead was brilliant as always. I think it is the only song in the Meat Puppets cannon that has been played at all of the 30 odd performances I have seen since 1984.
Cris Kirkwood's rubbery bass work powering the song and nudging it along as he stood center stage. Cris' background vocals were also fantastic throughout the evening. Again, a bit predictably, "Lake of Fire" closed the night out followed by the encore, the band's biggest hit, "Backwater." Maybe I am in the minority at this point, but if I have one criticism of this show, unlike the days of yore, the group is basically playing the same sets every night with some minor variations. But that complaint is surely nitpicking. To have the original Meat Puppets back and pumping out blistering shows in 2022 is indeed a 'magic toy,' that was 'missing' for a long time. Welcome back, Pups.