Meat Puppets at Bluebird Theater

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Meat Puppets with Shaky Hands
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Bluebird Theater
Better Than:
Not seeing such a deservedly legendary band.

Shaky Hands from Portland, Oregon, opened the show with its own brand of countrified indie rock. There was nothing languid about the performance of this four-piece: Bright, chimy guitars and thick, heady leads locking in with dense but dynamic rhythms characterized much of the band's material. Occasionally there were moments when the two guitarists would make their instruments wail and then soar into Built to Spill territory. Each song was lively, energetic and intense despite being rooted in country and atmospheric indie rock. At times the guitar parts wove fascinating textures instead of wanking around like many guitarists would be tempted to do. The lead singer had a broad emotional palette, and he employed it well throughout the show. Toward the end of the set, Hands played a song that started with a bang of fiery guitars and stark rhythms that dynamically smoothed out without losing the hard edges -- an interesting effect that you don't hear often enough.

Meat Puppets opened its set with a song that sounded like a great old roadhouse country rock song until Curt Kirkwood kicked on the delay and made the chords stretch out into weird shapes. For a full two thirds of the set, Kirkwood played an acoustic Gibson. I have yet to hear anyone outside of maybe Robert Smith make an acoustic guitar produce uncharacteristic sounds, but Kirkwood made his roar, wail, cry out and unleash unbelievable passages of blazing intensity. I honestly can't say I was familiar with much of the music by name, but a good deal of it came from early albums, and it all sounded perhaps more relevant today than it did when that music first came out.

The psychedelic tinge and improvised jams tacked on to songs proved just how Curt Kirkwood is truly one of the undersung guitar heroes of the last three decades. His sheer mastery of executing great riff after great riff was mind-boggling. His brother Cris, looking older than Curt though still young, seemed to be at one with his bass while also practically giving a course on perfectly executed bass lines in a diversity of styles, showing no effort but looking like he was having fun. There was little stage banter, even when some knuckleheads decided that psychedelic country rock was fodder for moshing and being stupidly violent (a notion that was quickly shut down with sarcasm from the nearby audience). Halfway through the fourteen-song set, the band played a rocking version of "Plateau" and treated us to an impassioned rendition of "Lake of Fire." The encore started off with the band's biggest hit, "Backwater" and ended two songs later with a chaotic rock-and-oll blaze of glory. The Meat Puppets didn't have to prove their continued relevance, but they sure did this night.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I wanted to like the Meat Puppets show and ended up loving it.
Random Detail: Met some guys from the band Orchid Riot when we were both at the foot of the stage.
By the Way: Most Meat Puppets albums are easy to find, and if you want to hear one of the founding sounds of indie music, do yourself a favor and at least check out Meat Puppets II.

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