Last Night: The Meat Puppets At Fitzgerald's

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The Meat Puppets Fitzgerald's October 2, 2011

Last night was a special night in Houston, and for a couple of reasons: First, we felt our first taste of autumn, with temperatures dipping into the low 60s; more importantly, in this instance, was the city's opportunity to see veteran hard-rockers and grunge pioneers the Meat Puppets in the cozy confines of Fitzgerald's downstairs room - for free. Unsurprisingly, many crawled out of the woodwork to take advantage of such an occasion, as did we, and fervently so.

Over the course of the Meat Puppets' 30-year history, the band - including founders and brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood - have influenced many of modern rock's elite, like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. The Puppets are most notably credited, though, as one of the Nirvana's driving influences; three of the 14 songs Nirvana performed on their infinitely lauded MTV Unplugged in New York ("Plateau," "Oh, Me," "Lake of Fire") were Meat Puppets songs.

After fizzling into hiatus in 1996 and officially disbanding in 2002 (Curt pursued solo and side-projects, while Cris served two years in prison for assault), the seasoned rockers regrouped in 2006 and released their thirteenth album, Lollipop, earlier this year.

While much of Sunday's night's crowd took advantage of the evening's cool temperatures on the outside patio, they trickled inside as the clock neared midnight, awaiting the Meat Puppets' 12 a.m. set time. Fans cheered at their first glance of the Kirkwoods as they casually walked onstage to set up.

While the brothers' Unplugged image is timelessly etched in our minds - they guest-starred on the program at Kurt Cobain's behest - Aftermath was instantly reminded that 17 years have passed since its taping; Cris and Curt's frizzy mops were now endearingly inundated with grey. Otherwise, it seemed not much had changed; Curt sported shredded denim and Converse.

Though the band is technically touring in support of Lollipop, opener "I'm a Mindless Idiot," from 1984's Meat Puppets II, prepared us for a set sprinkled with tracks spanning the band's 30-year career.

It was hard to believe the thrashing wall-of-sound was delivered by a trio; Cris and Curt play their guitars with a second-nature fluidity that left us awed. Drummer Shandon Sahm matched his bandmates' talent, an intense and spot-on drummer whom we caught smiling and making frequent eye-contact with nearby fans.

Fifteen songs into their set, and the band had barely addressed the crowd. After a speedy delivery of their most radio-friendly hit, 1994's "Backwater," Cris approached the mike, jovially remarking to the crowd a simple, "Go fuck yourself!"

The band otherwise remained mum, opting to maximize their allotted time with constant songs over onstage banter. Spanning their vast catalog, they revisited 1985 album Up On the Sun with "Maiden's Milk," 1991's Forbidden Places with "Open Wide" and new Lollipop material including "Hour On the Idiot."

After an hour and a half of uninterrupted twang-tinged psych-rock jams, the mood was lightened with a cover of the Beach Boys' classic "Sloop John B," during which the previously tough crowd dreamily swayed. The band directly continued into poignant set closer "Lake of Fire."

After briefly leaving the stage, the trio returned for a one-song encore, a cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man."

The Meat Puppets are independent innovators; they are their own band. But the timing of their show seemed well-suited, considering we commemorated the 20-year anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind just last week. The occasion made us especially nostalgic for the mostly defunct spirit of gritty grunge-rock - sweaty long hair, reeling guitars, and some of the best, most influential rock music ever recorded.

Sunday night, however, that spirit was alive and well.

Personal Bias: I once sprinted six city blocks and back to fetch my camera, just to get a picture with Curt Kirkwood (and Krist Novoselic, at Emo's in 2002). Does that answer your question?

The Crowd: A male to female ratio of roughly 9:1. Lots of long-haired, band-T-shirt wearing thirtysomethings. We can't complain.

Overheard In the Crowd: I cringe while typing this, but it needs to be aired and subsequently stopped: Someone requested "Free Bird."

Random Notebook Dump: To the guy who initiated the mosh pit, forcing me into the amp, and bruising my arm: Fuck you.


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