It took more than a decade for the Meat Puppets to achieve “overnight success” — a rise powered in large part by the endorsement of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who enlisted the band for an acclaimed “MTV Unplugged” performance. It took far less time for the Arizona-bred trio to hit rock bottom, however, when bassist and co-founder Cris Kirkwood’s personal problems all but destroyed the punk stalwarts.
The reconstituted band acquitted itself quite well at the Pups’ first New York appearance in several years on Wednesday evening, despite frontman Curt Kirkwood’s palpable sense of jitters.
Kirkwood, who mumbled and stumbled often between songs, exuded an odd combination of serenity and otherworldly possession once he started unskeining his characteristically off-kilter guitar solos.
Those didn’t come easy at the onset of the 90-minute perf. In fact, the ponderous metallic tones of some of the material culled from the upcoming “Golden Lies” album seemed jarring when contrasted with the high-desert ramble of older favorites like “Lake of Fire” and “Oh Me” — both of which were recently reissued as part of Ryko’s remastering of the band’s early indie catalog.
But while the bulldozing rhythms of songs like the overwrought “Take Off Your Clothes” ventured uncomfortably close to Korn territory, it soon became obvious that the band was tweaking the new hard rock sensibility much as they once did that of hardcore punk. To that end, Kirkwood and second guitarist Kyle Ellison plastered songs like “Armed and Stupid” with antic splatters of noise that all but obliterated the radio-ready song structures.
Similarly, the dada juxtapositions of “I Quit” and “Hercules” — both of which evince the simultaneously bright and nightmarish worldview in evidence in Kirkwood’s artwork (currently on display at the tony Earl McGrath Gallery on West 57th) — proved to be equally suited for head-banging and head-scratching. Even after five years on the shelf, the Meat Puppets combine that usually irreconcilable set of tics like no one else.
The Meat Puppets will play with Elastica Sept. 21-22 at the Roxy in Los Angeles.