Meat Puppets Trying To Rebuild With New Lineup, Songs

Veteran band plays tunes from an album that's in limbo.

AUSTIN, Texas — Plenty of bands in flux would kill for the performance Meat Puppets gave at the South by Southwest music conference almost two weeks ago.

Despite a new lineup with just one original member, despite having played precious few shows in recent years and despite a nearly 20-song setlist with only three old tunes, the psychedelic band handily won over an outdoor crowd of thousands at Waterloo Park.

"With the kind of music we play, either people f---ing like it or they don't," founding singer/guitarist Curt Kirkwood said after the gig, laughing in moonlight that broke through the clouds.

"It's important to us that people enjoy it more than anything," Kirkwood, 41, said. "Our main philosophy is just to get [a] record out. The shows to us are supposed to be just good and fun. No careering involved."

If Kirkwood wasn't outwardly flying high, it might be because he's trying not to get his hopes up. For the past couple of years, he's been carefully trying to rebuild a group that has seen its fair share — at least — of turmoil.

Formed in Phoenix in 1980 by Kirkwood and his younger brother Cris Kirkwood on bass, Meat Puppets stood at the head of the SST Records punk stable along with Black

Flag, Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen and Sonic Youth. Albums such as Meat Puppets II (1984), which includes "Lake of Fire" (RealAudio excerpt), forged a new blend of country, psychedelia and punk.

But in the early '90s, as the influential band moved to a major label, toured with Stone Temple Pilots and received public accolades from Nirvana, Cris Kirkwood fell into an all-consuming drug addiction. At times, he took to the road, drifting. In 1998, his wife died of an overdose, and in May 1999 he was arrested on charges of possessing drug paraphernalia.

The Meat Puppets' manager, Tami Blevins, said Tuesday she doesn't know Kirkwood's current situation, other than that he continues to struggle with the addiction.

Fed up with his brother's condition, Curt Kirkwood moved to Austin and assembled a new group. Last year, the lineup — Kyle Ellison (guitar), Andrew Duplantis (bass) and Shandon Sahm (drums) — recorded a seven-song CD, You Love Me, and distributed it free to fans via its Web site.

The band romped through several songs from that disc on March 18, including "Vegetable's Opinion." Continuing in the Meat Puppets' western-psychedelic vein, the cut intersperses slide guitar, twisted yodeling and vocal harrumphing.

While the group opened with "Lake of Fire" and also played the vocally explosive "Sam" (RealAudio excerpt), from Forbidden Places (1991), new songs such as "Batwing" and "Push the Button" were received just as enthusiastically.

Another new number, "Pieces of Me," may have alluded to Cris Kirkwood's drug abuse. "I've still got the hole where my heart was," Kirkwood sang. "Once I was something, but I can't remember."

Now that he has a functioning band and new material, Curt Kirkwood still faces one obstacle. The band can't record and release an album until their new label, Universal Music, decides for which of its imprints the Meat Puppets will record.

Until that happens, the band is unlikely to hit the road to showcase its new lineup and songs, Blevins said.

Kirkwood said he's frustrated, but he appeared patient.

"When everybody likes it and they keep telling you, 'This is really cool,' you go, 'Yeah, I wish we could put it out on a record so you could have a nice copy of it,' " he said. "But I can't yet. We know it doesn't need a lot more work, but that could change if we don't put it out."