Meat Puppets at Club Garibaldi
Considering what the Meat Puppets have been through in the last decade, seeing them live in 2010 is a near-miracle, to say nothing of seeing them in an intimate environment like Club G. This fact is assuredly not lost on the band, as their excitement was palpable when they opened with the classic “Plateau.” Singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood worked through some early tuning quirks while bassist Cris Kirkwood contorted and spazzed about the stage, mugging for the audience and having a ball.
Nearly every song of the hour-plus set went into an acid freakout at some point, with Curt displaying dizzying fret skills and equally impressive mastery of his effects pedals. As the crowd hooted and “yahoo!”ed their approval, the hits were all covered—“Comin’ Down,” “Oh, Me,” “Lake of Fire,” all delivered with the trademark loose, jangly country-psych vibe the Meat Puppets made classic decades ago.
All the rough edges that give the Meat Puppets’ songs their charm were polished to sheen during the evening’s middle set. Milwaukee’s The Etiquette is a tight, focused, slick power-pop band. Every chord, every lick, every stage move seems executed according to plan, and the band members have the look of professionals who mean business. But that’s exactly why their music tends to leave me a bit cold. They come off to me as a band making no bones about wanting to “make it,” as it were—producing power-pop intended to cast as wide a net as possible. None of this is meant as a strike against the band—they are damn good at what they do, and they had the Club G crowd firmly behind them on Sunday evening. There’s just a distinct lack of originality or personality, which leaves me shrugging my shoulders. That said, they did close with that “are we having fun?” song of theirs, which I really like. Even I’m not invulnerable to a hook that solid.
Of course, anyone would have sounded like slick pros after the frustrating, meandering opening set by Con Queso. Sounding like something from a St. Sanders “shreds” video made flesh, it was hard to tell sometimes if the band members were paying attention to each other during their shambolic, messy instrumentals. Perhaps most infuriating was their closing number, which took a half-hearted batch of guitar and bass solos and ramped them into a facepalm version of “Song 2” by Blur, of all things. As they left the stage, I looked at the band’s bass player, turned to my friend Jason, and said, “man, I expect better things out of a bass player with a (former Husker Du bassist) Greg Norton mustache.”
Imagine my shock when, late in the Meat Puppets’ set, Cris Kirkwood got on the mic and announced, “we’re gonna get Greg Norton up here to jam with us on this next one.” Holy shit, that WAS Greg Norton? Sure enough, the bassist from Con Queso hopped on stage and proceeded to improv with the band for the next five minutes or so. It was thrilling stuff, seeing a member of a classic punk band jamming on stage with the members of another classic country-punk band, but my mind was too blown to appreciate it. Even as the band launched into their last few songs, “Lake of Fire” and “Backwater,” all I could think was, Son of a bitch, I just saw Greg Norton of Husker Du play a Blur cover. I’m sure no amount of brown acid at a Phish show could have topped that mindfuck.