Review and Photography by John Bentley

Until this gig I mainly knew Meat Puppets as one of the seminal US alternative bands of the 1980s and 90s, perhaps most known for the three Meat Puppets songs recorded by Nirvana for their ‘Unplugged In New York’ album. Kurt Cobain was a big fan of the band and Cris and Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets were invited to play on Nirvana’s unplugged session. However, tonight Meat Puppets really demonstrate that they are a force of their own.

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

First act on tonight is Noses from South Wales, who describe their music as ‘country punk’. This is the second time they have supported the Meat Puppets on tour. They are a tight band, playing clipped-rock and roll in a fast and furious manner. Frontman Oliver certainly knows how to put on a show and there are also some crisp lead guitar lines.

Nose at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Second up are Munky, from Dublin, another very tight band with an energetic lead singer, mostly playing fast paced rock. However, perhaps their most enjoyable song is a slower funk number name-checking Bootsie Collins, which enables them to show-off their combined musical abilities.

Munky at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Meat Puppets originally formed back in 1980 and now, after various splits, personal problems and line-up changes, the three original members, brothers Curt (guitar) and Cris (bass) Kirkwood and Derrick Bostrom (drums), are back together again. Completing the line-up are Curt’s son Elmo on second guitar and Ron Stabinsky on keyboards. The tour is promoting their well-received new album ‘Dusty Notes’, but the setlist includes a good selection of Meat Puppets favourites from across their 30-odd year career.

Although they originally started as a lo-fi hardcore punk band, what really comes over tonight is the range of styles and influences that Meat Puppets have taken on board and the breadth of their music. Each song is different from the last, but each is stamped with the Meat Puppets distinctive brand: a review in Pitchfork got it about right when it said that Meat Puppets “found the bridge between the (Grateful) Dead and the Dead Kennedys”.

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

At one moment they play a fairly straight upbeat cover of old country song ‘Sea of Heartbreak’ (a hit for Don Gibson in 1961); then there is a Neil Young-style guitar extravaganza (‘Unfrozen Memory’); a stunning surf-influenced instrumental (‘Seal Whales’); a slow ballad with beautiful three-part harmonies (Movin’ On’); and then there are lengthy guitar-driven noise-freak-outs (‘Lost’, ‘Up On the Sun’). However, even under the noise there are some great melodies. Stabinsky contributes some subtle keyboard parts to songs like ‘Movin’ On’. And well done to the sound technicians tonight, as the sound quality at the Brudenell is superb and really does justice to the music.

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

The band, who are clearly enjoying the evening, say very little, but connect well with the Leeds audience (they’ve played here before, but they can’t remember when). Much of the new album is played, showing how far the band has evolved since the classic stripped-back ‘Meat Puppets II’ album of 1984. New album title track ‘Dusty Notes’, for example, is Byrds-ish country (on the album version with a bit of mariachi trumpet thrown in). But the audience is not disappointed with the good old favourites played, notably the Kurt Cobain-endorsed ‘Plateau’, whose opening chords draw an instant cheer. A good version it is too, with some beautiful rippling guitar and great axe interplay between Elmo and Curt. The gig ends with a couple more classics, ‘Lake of Fire’, with Curt really hollering the vocals, and ‘Backwater’, the band’s most successful single.

This is my gig of the year so far. I am a true convert after tonight’s tour de force and orders are in for Meat Puppet’s back catalogue!

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Setlist: Comin’ Down; Warranty; Sam; Dusty Notes; Unfrozen Memory; Seal Whales; Flaming Heart; Movin’ On; Lost; Plateau; The Great Awakening; Sea of Heartbreak; Up On the Sun; Outflow; Nine Pins; Lake of Fire; Backwater.

Meat Puppets at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

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