Meat Puppets & Mudhoney

Date
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Time/Doors
Doors 7 | Show 8
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Description

It’s time to pull your flannel shirts and Doc Martens out of your closet. We’re hosting two ‘90s alternative legends in one when Mud Honey and the Meat Puppets hit our stage for one night of your teenage angst-ridden nostalgia.

Mudhoney, hailing from Seattle (natch) is largely credited with creating the trademark sound of grunge – dirty guitar-heavy distortion. Their grunge bona fides don’t stop there, though. They had a stint with Sub Pop records and opened for Pearl Jam’s 20th-anniversary tour. Best known for their song “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Mudhoney released a new album, Digital Garbage, last year.

Some things never change. That’s not just the refrain from the Meat Puppets biggest hit, “Backwater,” but also an apt description of the band, who tours often and rocks just as hard as ever. They like Mudhoney, are credited with being at the forefront of the grunge genre and have been named as influences for bands including Nirvana, Pavement and Sublime. In fact, Cobain had two Meat Puppets perform with him on his legendary MTV Unplugged special.

MudHoney

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Mudhoney's time line begins in 1980, when teenaged Mark Arm formed the band Mr. Epp and the Calculations with some high-school friends from the Seattle suburb of Bellevue; none of whom actually knew how to play at the time. More interested in goofing off, breaking things, and posting flyers for shows that were never scheduled than actually making music, Mr. Epp didn't get around to playing a show until late 1981, opening for a band called Student Nurse. Despite their legendary ineptitude (they were described as "the worst band in the world" on more than one occasion), Mr. Epp began to develop a following, and released a 7" EP in 1982. In 1983, in a bid to sound more like a real band, the group added a second guitarist, Steve Turner, who had previously played in a garage band called the Ducky Boys. That same year they released their Live As All Get Out cassette, but things began to peter out for the group, and they played their final show in February 1984. In 1981, Arm and Turner, who'd become fast friends, also began playing in another joke-punk band, the Limp Richerds, and briefly placed their focus on that group until the Richerds also broke up near the end of 1984.

Eager to start playing again, Arm and Turner teamed up with drummer Alex Vincent, who had played with Turner in a short-lived band called Spluii Numa, and bassist Jeff Ament, who had recently arrived in the Northwest from Montana. When Arm decided he wanted to put down his guitar and concentrate on vocals, Turner asked former Ducky Boys guitarist Stone Gossard to join the group, and Green River was born. Along with fellow Washingtonians the Melvins, Green River were pioneers of a new Northwest rock sound, merging the snot-nosed sneer of punk with the minor-key thud of heavy metal. It didn't take long for Green River to get noticed on the Seattle rock scene, and in 1985 the band released their first EP, Come On Down. By the time the record hit the streets, Turner had left the band to return to college (he was also growing disenchanted with the harder rock direction the band was following); and with new guitarist Bruce Fairweather, the band set out on a nationwide tour that was little short of disastrous, in large part because a delay in the record's release had the band supporting an album that hadn't come out yet. The band survived to make a second EP, Dry As a Bone, for a new Seattle label, Sub Pop Records, in 1987; but, by the time their first full-length album, Rehab Doll, was released in the summer of 1988, tensions between members of the band caused Green River to split up. Ament and Gossard formed a new band called Mother Love Bone, Fairweather joined Love Battery, and Vincent went to law school.

Arm and Turner, meanwhile, had formed a side project while in Green River called the Thrown Ups, featuring graphic artist Ed Fotheringham on vocals. Essentially a more extreme example of the sort of goofy onslaught Arm and Turner had let loose with Mr. Epp, the Thrown Ups brought the two friends back together again, but Turner expressed a desire to form a new band that actually rehearsed songs before they played them in front of an audience. In his spare time, Turner began working up new material with Arm and drummer Dan Peters, who had played in Bundle of Hiss and Feast. Needing a bassist, the three hooked up with Matt Lukin, who had recently left the Melvins shortly before they left Washington for California. Naming themselves Mudhoney, after a Russ Meyer film none of them had actually seen, the new foursome took the punk metal formula of Green River and the Melvins, added a dollop of '60s garage rock swagger and a large portion of Fun House-era Stooges, and ran it all through the cheap stomp boxes Arm and Turner so cherished. Turner initially expected the band to last about six month.

1988, Sub Pop released the band's first single, "Touch Me I'm Sick" b/w "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More", with the EP Superfuzz Bigmuff following a few months later. The timing proved fortuitous. The indie circuit success of the Replacements and Big Black had created a demand at college radio and the nderground club circuit for harder and heavier bands, and Sub Pop's homegrown-but-earnest media blitz was helping to make "the Seattle Sound" -- soon to be dubbed "grunge" -- the next big thing, with Mudhoney the chief beneficiary. While the band's first american tour was nothing to write home about, the Sub Pop hype machine had already begun to take hold overseas, and the band scored a European tour -- mostly dates in Germany -- in early 1989. A few months later, Sonic Youth, who'd been big fans of Green River, invited Turner and Arm's new band to join them for a British tour, and soon Mudhoney found themselves the talk of the U.K. rock press. Superfuzz Bigmuff landed on the British indie charts and stayed there for the better part of a year, and the band wasted no time returning for a headlining tour, complete with massive press coverage and riotous shows. Word of Mudhoney's rep in Europe quickly crossed the pond, and the band was the new heroes of underground rock by the time their first full-length album, simply called Mudhoney, came out in late 1989.

In the wake of Mudhoney's success, a number of other Sub Pop acts began making big noise on college radio and the indie club circuit, including Soundgarden, Tad, the Fluid, and a trio of Melvins fans from Aberdeen, WA, called Nirvana. However, while Sub Pop was doing a fine job of creating the Next Big Thing, they weren't making much money at it just yet; and the label's financial problems were one reason Mudhoney's second full-length album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge -- which found the band upping the garage punk quotient in heir formula -- didn't hit stores until 1991. By the end of the year, Mudhoney was shopping for a new label, and they could have hardly chosen a better time; Nirvana had already taken the major-label bait in 1990, and by December of 1991, Nevermind had made them the biggest and most talked about rock band in America. Soon, seemingly every band in Seattle was being offered a major label contract, and Mudhoney signed a deal with Reprise/Warner Bros. Their first major-label album, Piece of Cake, made it clear that the band's new corporate sponsorship wasn't going to change their musical approach; but their presence on a major label seemed to alienate old fans, while the mass audience who had embraced Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam (featuring Arm and Turner's old Green River bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament) found Mudhoney's work too eccentric for comfort. While Mudhoney remained a potent live draw, their record sales during their tenure with Reprise were disappointing, though they recorded two of their finest albums for the label: My Brother the Cow and Tomorrow Hit Today.
In 1999, after an extensive tour supporting Tomorrow Hit Today, Reprise announced that they had dropped Mudhoney from their roster, and shortly after that, the band announced that Matt Lukin had turned in his resignation, citing his dislike of touring. With the release of March to Fuzz, a comprehensive career-retrospective compilation, many observers assumed that Mudhoney had called it a day, but in 2001 the band began playing a few live dates around the Northwest, with Steve Dukich (formerly with Steel Wool) sitting in on bass. The shows went well enough that Mudhoney decided to take another stab at their career, and Guy Maddison -- who'd been a member of Bloodloss, one of Arm's many part-time bands -- signed on as Mudhoney's new official bassist. Arm and Turner also found time to record and tour with a side project, the garage blues band Monkeywrench. When they came back together, they recorded Since We've Become Translucent and released it in the summer of 2002. The angry political and social commentary Under a Billion Suns appeared in 2006, followed by the deliberately raw, return to their aggressive roots The Lucky Ones in 2008.

In the years following The Lucky Ones, Mudhoney toured regularly, with one of the highlights being a showcase of the entire Superfuzz Bigmuff album at the 2010 All Tomorrows Parties in New York. All this was preparation for a 25th Anniversary blow-out in 2013, when the band released their ninth studio album, Vanishing Point, and a home video release of the documentary I'm Now, which was screened at various film festivals in 2012.

Meat Puppets

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The Meat Puppets’ story begins with idle time spent in the wide-open spaces of the Phoenix area during the early 1980s. Friendly high school acquaintances, Bostrom and Curt Kirkwood were in the dawn of their twenties, unemployed and “starting to hang out because we were the only guys home,” the drummer recalled with a laugh. “Cris was going to school at the time, so we would lay around waiting for him to get out, and then he would join us as a trio. We began to make such a hellacious racket that we knew we were on to something.”

The collective influences in play ran the gamut—classic rock, British prog, the Dead, Zappa, Beefheart, fusion, the jazz avant-garde and, of course, punk rock, which had enjoyed a tightknit but robust scene in Phoenix since the mid-to-late ’70s. But the fascinating take on hardcore that can be heard on Meat Puppets, the band’s 1982 SST debut, had more to do with punk rock’s ethos of creative freedom (and Arizona’s psychedelic history) than with any calculated musical strategy. “Curt was trying to play in straight bands and getting kicked out,” Bostrom recalled. “I told him, ‘No—in this day and age you can be anything you need to be, and this band is going to support your weirdness.”

Throughout the ’80s, the Meat Puppets found a crucial advocate in SST. Founded by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, the trailblazing indie label emboldened the trio to follow their whims from one artistically brazen record to the next, and spearheaded a national touring network that gave them hard-earned exposure. Still, the hardcore kids devoted to the likes of Flag didn’t always take kindly to three longhairs whose punk was infused with Neil Young. “I got spit on so much,” Curt said. “I would get spit in my open eyeball and come offstage with loogies dripping off the guitar. It was hideous.”

But the band persevered, and by the late ’80s a dependable legion of Meatheads had accrued. “It was the attrition of the naysayers going away,” Curt recalled, “and not bothering to come and waste their money and waste our time.” But the same nonstop cycle of touring and recording that allowed the band to gather their following was also threatening to burn it out. “We were trying to do this to make a living,” Bostrom said, “so we were definitely interested in new opportunities.”

Major labels had begun to pluck the best of what was then called college rock, but the Meat Puppets weren’t the easiest sell. “We were not punk enough, and we were too punk,” Bostrom said. Eventually a deal was struck with London, and the Meat Puppets’ second album for the label, Too High to Die, became a gold record with a breakout single, “Backwater.”

During the fall prior to that album’s January ’94 release, essential groundwork was laid. Nirvana, touring in support of In Utero, asked the band to open some shows in October. A couple of nights into the stint, Kurt Cobain told Kirkwood that Nirvana was taping an MTV Unpluggedsoon, and that he needed the brothers to guest at the performance in New York. “He said he couldn’t play the guitar parts,” Kirkwood said with a chuckle. And so “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau,” two of Cobain’s favorite tunes off of one of his favorite albums, Meat Puppets II, became staples of MTV when the network was still a taste-making behemoth. As Kirkwood saw it, his songs were being interpreted by a once-in-a-generation talent. “That’s a special voice,” he said. “That’s like a George Jones voice, somebody that’s immediately recognizable. A Neil Young voice.” A quarter-century later, the Nirvana association continues to be a catalyst for fandom. “It’s been the most constant vein that draws people in,” Kirkwood said.

Despite such achievement, the Meat Puppets hit a wall not much later. No Joke!, the follow-up to Too High, was strong,but lightning didn’t strike twice. The majors were quickly losing interest in the indie scene they’d been exploiting, Cris’ drug use had become a dire problem, and Bostrom was at a crossroads. “I needed to get a life,” he said. “I’d been on the road for 15 years.” Post-Nirvana sales and royalties had given everyone some savings, so we could afford to part ways.

Kirkwood and Bostrom remained on good terms. A computer enthusiast who built a thriving career in information technology, Bostrom became the band’s webmaster and oversaw their ambitious Rykodisc reissue campaign in 1999. By the time Kirkwood assembled a new Meat Puppets lineup for 2000’s Golden Lies, Bostrom was happily settled into his work and family life. Cris, once again happy and healthy, and Curt reunited for 2007’s Rise to Your Kneesand three well-received subsequent albums. The Meat Puppets continued to grow and impress as a live act, though the set lists mostly acknowledged albums such as Meat Puppets IIand Up on the Sun, which had long been recognized as landmarks of alternative music.

At their induction into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2017, the Meat Puppets, one of the most compelling, original and enduring bands in rock history, managed to both honor their story and introduce its next chapter.

On that night in August, at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, founding members Curt Kirkwood, on vocals and guitar; his brother Cris Kirkwood, on bass and vocals; and Derrick Bostrom, on drums, joined together onstage for the first time in over two decades. Throughout a set that included era-defining songs like“Lake of Fire,” “Plateau” and “Backwater,” the chemistry was more than promising, as Bostrom isn’t shy to point out. “It was so intense that even I couldn’t deny it!” he recalled recently. “It was just like,now I remember why we did this. It was magical.”
In addition to the newly reformed founding trio, the album features keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, a jazz-trained virtuoso adept at any style, and Curt Kirkwood’s son Elmo, whose old-school rock-guitar grit ideally complements his father’s spacier explorations. Intuitive, inspired and overflowing with genuine musicianship, it’s the sort of band that can transform what Curt describes as “simple yet engaging” songs into maiden voyages each night on the road. “I can ignore my vocal and listen to the other four guys play,” Kirkwood said, chuckling. “They’re all so good.”
For the Meat Puppets, the backstory that led to that peak reads like a kind of Great American Rock Novel. It begins with kids, enamored of music and immersed in the psychedelic drug culture of Arizona in the ’70s, who find their way to punk rock, painstakingly become one of the most important bands of the American underground and go on to achieve mainstream rock stardom. A hiatus and resurrection follow, as Kirkwood doggedly furthers the Meat Puppets’ legacy—first on his own, and then alongside his brother, who’d conquered profound personal demons.

Stepping outside the band again, Bostrom can only marvel at the brothers’ tenacity. “The Meat Puppets have just been a really, really deep font of creativity,” he said. “Love it or hate it, hit or miss, Curt is just prodigious. When I got to know these guys again, I realized that they are still living the rock lifestyle; they’re not doing it by half measures. They stayed on the road. These guys are uncompromising. I consider the Meat Puppets to be a national treasure.”