Monday, March 27, 2017

Ripple Field Trip: The Meat Puppets at the Silverlake Echoplex

The best concert I have ever attended in my life was at UCLA’s Ackerman Union hall in 1985 – a trifecta never to be equaled in modern American rock – the Minutemen, followed by Meat Puppets, followed by Husker Du.  All 3 bands launched by landmark punk label SST earlier in the 80s, these 3 juggernauts all tore through spectacular material at the height of their respective games.  The Minutemen’s songs were maturing way beyond their 70 second sonic blurts into fully developed, politically charged rock n roll anthems from their double cd opus Double Nickels on the Dime; the Meat Puppets were touring to support their spectacular Up on the Sun album, where their trippy psychedelically tinged, rootsy punk coalesced into brilliance; and Husker Du were riding the crescendo of their creative peak, playing an endless parade of high quality songs from their stellar albums Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, and debuting new single Makes no Sense at All , foreshadowing a newfound power pop sensibility.

Where are they now?  Sadly we lost Minutemen guitarist and frontman D Boon to a tragic tour bus accident not a year later, the group disbanding immediately, and Husker Du dissolved a few years later after the brilliant Warehouse – Songs and Stories double album to leave an influential legacy without which we do not know a litany of high achieving bands that we take for granted.  But the Meat Puppets?  Well, they are not just still around, they are thriving and killing it live.  Having released over a dozen albums throughout their 3-decade plus career, they continue to tour regularly around the country, and their recent headlining stop at Silverlake’s Echoplex revealed a band that can still kick out the jams in most impressive fashion.  Choosing what seemed like one song from practically every record they’ve released, their extended jams on Up on the Sun’s enchanting instrumental “Seal Whales” and the particularly intense “Lake of Fire’ (made famous of course by Nirvana’s unplugged version) were breathtaking.

Hailing originally from Phoenix, what an apt synergy, because bass player Cris Kirkwood’s is truly one hell of a success story, having risen from the depths of heroin addiction and incarceration 10 years ago to take center stage as the far more animated of the two brothers, older brother Curt content to convey a chill vibe and focus on delivering his pleasantly quixotic lyrics and mindbending guitar solos.  It’s Cris whose elfish figure draws the eye’s attention, his good natured and quirky facial contortions keeping pace with his solid fretwork, blasting to smithereens the Entwistle/John Paul Jones-inspired theory that the bass player stands still like a steady ox caught in the vortex of hyperkinetic lead singers and uber type-A guitar heroes.  At his left flank on stage was yet another Kirkwood, young Elmo, whose long flowing locks and overall mojo clearly betrayed a family resemblance and conjured up images of his lineage from that concert decades ago.

On stage before the Meat Puppets was Ford Madox Ford, the new band from SoCal music scene veteran Chip Kinman, whose 1980s band Rank and File with (speaking of brothers) Tony made some noteworthy inroads into local lore with solid radio-friendly “cowpunk” tracks like “The Conductor Wore Black” and “Amanda Ruth”.  The new band sounded very accomplished indeed given their short history – after Chip playfully announced he was gonna play some punk, they launched into a mighty fine set of energetic blues and rockabilly-influenced rootsy rock that called to mind more “Brand New Cadillac”  than “White Riot”.  Look out for their debut release this summer on Porterhouse Records, recording as we speak.  

-Rhythm Slayer

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