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Nov 10, 2011
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Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood discusses merits of spontaneity, brush with Nirvana

The Meat Puppets perform on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Vaudeville Mews. Tickets are $15 through Midwestix. Black Box Revelation opens the show.

By Michael Swanger

Thirty years after the release of their debut EP “In A Car” and 20-plus years after they influenced Seattle’s grunge scene (particularly Nirvana), the Meat Puppets are as spontaneous and intuitive as ever.

“We just got a call from Guns N’ Roses asking us if we want to do a week or two of shows with them after Des Moines. Who knows? It could be fun,” said singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood, 52, via telephone last week from an IHOP in Washington D.C.

When Kirkwood, his brother-bassist Cris Kirkwood and returning drummer Shandon Sahm (son of the late Texas music legend Doug Sahm) play the Vaudeville Mews this weekend, it will be the last stop on the latest leg of a headlining tour supporting their 13th studio album, “Lollipop.” The album’s mix of hardcore punk, cowpunk and psychedelic rock rivals the band’s mid-’80s classics “Up On the Sun” and “Mirage” with sarcastic, thought-provoking, social and autobiographical commentary on songs like “Incomplete,” “Hour of the Idiot,” “Amazing,” “Damn Thing” and “Orange,” the last two of which are the subject of inventive music videos created by the band’s longtime friend Mike Etoll. More impressive, in an era of increasingly contrived music, is that the trio recorded the fluid “Lollipop” without rehearsal.

“We didn’t practice a thing. I didn’t want to do that,” Kirkwood said. “I wanted to build it fresh in the studio. It worked out well.”

Kirkwood said that one of the pleasures of making an album is having fun and detaching yourself from the process.

“When you beat songs into the ground in the studio, they’re the last things you want to hear, let alone play live,” he said. “Essentially, we’ve spent the entire year learning how to play the songs on the record. You end up covering yourself, which is much more enjoyable.”

Speaking of covers, the Meat Puppets were invited earlier this year by SPIN magazine to record “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s groundbreaking record, “Nevermind.” The band’s contribution to the tribute album was ironic considering the profound impact the Meat Puppets had on Nirvana, though it took Nirvana fans years to realize (if at all).

In 1993, the Meat Puppets’ popularity skyrocketed when Kurt Cobain invited the Kirkwood brothers to join Nirvana on MTV’s “Unplugged” to perform acoustic versions of Meat Puppets songs “Plateau,” “Oh Me” and “Lake of Fire.” The resulting album from that show, “MTV Unplugged in New York,” became Nirvana’s swan song after Cobain committed suicide four months later. It also propelled the Meat Puppets’ 1994 release “Too High To Die” and its charting single, “Backwater,” to commercial heights never-before-seen by the band.

“Nirvana gave us a huge amount of publicity and endorsement in terms of respect and finance,” Kirkwood said. “But it also made things difficult because we had never had success or money, so when we got more success it gave the record company the idea that we should be more successful. As soon as you get something, they want to kill the goose and lay the golden egg, which is how I always viewed Nirvana.”

Kirkwood, who became friends with Cobain and later played in a side band with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, said uneducated fans occasionally and wrongly dismissed the Meat Puppets as a Nirvana cover band.

“We were on tour in 1994 with Stone Temple Pilots and people knew the Nirvana ‘Unplugged’ album and called us Nirvana wannabes when we played our own songs,” he said. “It didn’t bother me that much because I own my publishing, and I own about one-third of that album (“Unplugged”) and that’s enough of a feather in my cap. Besides, I like the versions they did, and I think the whole album is amazing. I’m glad to have been a part of the experience.”

Kirkwood hopes fans will feel the same way about the Meat Puppets’ “Lollipop.”

“We want them to know that they are welcome here in Munchkinland,” he said. CV

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