The Meat Puppets minus gristle

A&E gets up close and personal with the Meat Puppets

Emily Eveland

After 34 years in the psychedelic southern rock game, the Meat Puppets are still going strong.

It hasn’t been easy.

The band –– currently comprised of brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood and drummer Shandon Sahm –– has dissolved twice in the past three decades, primarily due to Cris’s struggles with heroin and crack cocaine.

The Puppets are best known for their appearance on Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” session in 1993, just months before Cobain would take his own life. During the performance, Cobain sang three Puppets songs, including “Oh, Me,” “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau,” which are often incorrectly assumed to be Nirvana songs.

“It was cool that they wanted us to go on there. It was [expletive] punk rock in a way where it’s like, ‘Hey, way to go, you’re actually going to take people that you dig that aren’t necessarily that commercially well-known,’” Cris said.

In 2003, Cris was arrested for assaulting a security guard outside a post office. The guard shot him in the back, and Cris subsequently spent 21 months in prison.

In the meantime, Curt moved to Austin, Texas, where he formed Eyes Adrift with, Nirvana’s original bassist Krist Novoselic and Bud Gaugh, the former drummer of Sublime.

“I was waiting for Cris to get it together,” Curt said. “For the most part, we never really played when we were messed up. When that started happening, it was kind of hard to play, so we took a break. He took a long one.”

Cris cleaned up in prison and, at the suggestion of Curt’s son (Elmo Kirkwood, who now plays guitar with the Puppets), Cris was asked to rejoin the band.

“We never broke up. I just couldn’t keep doing it, and Curt carried on,” Cris said. “It’s my fault. Curt tried and tried until he couldn’t anymore, for his own sake.”

Since recommencing, the Puppets have released four albums (in addition to the 11 they released prior to the breakup), including last year’s “Rat Farm” — a polished departure from their usual chaotic, southern rock-inspired sound.

The Puppets have never followed musical conventions. Each of their 15 albums sounds entirely different from the one before it, the only constant being Curt’s warbling voice. They transitioned from hardcore punk on 1982’s “Meat Puppets” to polished southern rock on 1984’s “Meat Puppets II” to musically complicated and splendidly off-key tracks on 1985’s “Up on the Sun.”

In the early 1980s, Cris and Curt lived next to each other in Arizona and practiced in a shed out back. Though they no longer live in the same city –– Curt lives in Austin and Cris lives in Phoenix –– the brothers still manage to tour, write and record together. 

“It suits our personalities in a way,” Cris said. “There was a time when we were young that we played every [expletive] day. But we wouldn’t do this if we lived in the same town, no way. Not these days.”

Though Cris has been clean for over a decade, he still struggles to come to terms with the damage his addiction caused.

“It’s a really insidious, horrible thing to do to yourself. I let it all happen,” he said. “The one thing that I don’t mind about the whole story is that I stopped hurting myself that bad. Not only that, but I got myself back on my feet to the degree that I can play again.”

 

What: The Meat Puppets with Moistboyz
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Cabooze, 917 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $15
Age: 18+