Review & Setlist | Meat Puppets @ Empty Bottle 10/24/14

Words & Photos: Alex Wood

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It amazes me that the jam-band scene never embraced the Meat Puppets.

Known primarily for their heavy influence on post-punk and alternative rock in the 80s, the band’s music sounds no less revolutionary when performed today. Their music simply can’t go out of style with age.

Though fans will hate me for the comparison, Meat Puppets do, in fact, share similarities with most bands lumped into the jam scene.

The band shifts styles without hesitation, creating a blend of punk, alternative rock, noise rock, metal, psychedelic blues-rock and country. The high energy level of their performances never falters, even as songs stretch to ten minutes long. Studio tracks are transformed to something entirely new in the live setting and change significantly over time. Guitar solos exist in every song, regardless of style, often complemented by entirely improvisational sections that Phish fans would consider “Type II.”

Of course, I wouldn’t make this comparison if the musicianship weren’t top notch.

Guitarist Curt Kirkwood is as melodic as he is fast, the songs’ energy constantly accelerated by his blistering pace. Brother Cris Kirkwood shreds a bass in an equally frantic fashion, each line frenzied and shameless as elaborate riffs push themselves boldly to the front of the songs. Elmo Kirkwood, Curt’s son, handles rhythm guitar appropriately, knowing when to sit back and when to step into the spotlight. Drummer Shandon Sahm plays similarly, loose enough to match the band’s punk roots but tight enough to help the four-piece travel beyond them.

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The band opened with a funky and aggressive instrumental song that instantly caught the attention of everyone in the venue. (Or if the music didn’t, the absurdly loud volume certainly did.)

The country stomp of “Comin’ Down” followed immediately after, its honky-tonk verses met with a speedy, clean-toned solo by Curt.

An epic adaptation of “Up On The Sun” came next. The band worked its way through the laid-back, psychedelic verses and chorus before entering an unbelievable improvisational jam. Jarring distorted rhythm guitar matched intense soloing, the rhythm section locked into the soloist’s changing mood as Curt wandered about the stage. Electronic guitar noises became prominent in the spacey solo as the band eased back into its initial chord progression, finally hitting the opening riff simultaneously and ending the track as it began after a solid five minutes of jamming.

Over the last 25 years, the band lost none of its technical capabilities or willingness to experiment.

“The Monkey And The Snake” prominently featured whistling before falling into a spacey, psychedelic solo section. “(Hey Baby) Que Paso” offered a light-hearted but high-energy break, the band playing faster and harder throughout the breakneck solo.

“Sometimes Blue” showed a simpler, folkier side of the band, the newer track standing proudly amongst the older classics.

“Sam” proved how creative Meat Puppets could be, its catchy chorus and speedy vocals combining over an upbeat backing akin to an early ZZ Top song.

“Walking Boss” came as a welcome surprise, the track dating back to 1982 but performed with the confidence and talent the studio version lacks. The band played a fairly straightforward rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B,” a cover performed throughout their career, before ending in the triumphant post-punk classic “Lake Of Fire.”

Cass McCombs closed the show in a much simpler, laid-back fashion, but the real highlight remained the Meat Puppets.



1.) Instrumental Jam (I’m A Mindless Idiot?)
2.) Comin’ Down
3.) Up On The Sun
4.) ???
5.) Seven Spanish Angels (Willie Nelson / Ray Charles)
6.) Oh, Me
7.) In Love
8.) Lost
9.) The Monkey And The Snake
10.) Hey Baby Que Paso (Texas Tornados)
11.) Sometimes Blue
12.) Lantern
13.) Sam
14.) Walking Boss
15.) Sloop John B (The Beach Boys)
16.) Lake Of Fire

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