November 8, 2007
Double Door, Chicago, IL
The Meat Puppets
Ha Ha Tonka
Hello, my name is Slug, and welcome to my first article for MonsterFresh.com. It is a humble article, but it had ambitions to be so much more. Originally, this article was going to be a big, garish piece of writing, throwing around big, garish quotations by the Kirkwood Brothers of The Meat Puppets, one of the best psychedelic rock bands ever, revealing all their drugged-out splendor firsthand. They were the first band I ever saw perform live on stage when I was 16 back in 1994, and I had goose bumps I was so excited. However, instead of my great big garish expose, I am left with only one quote by one band member, which I will get to momentarily, and a lesson learned, which I will close this article with.
After trying for weeks to schedule an interview with The Meat Puppets before either of their shows at the Double Door here in Chicago on November 7-8, I was at least able to get on the guest list for the second show on the 8th. Once there, I figured I would be able to work my way backstage and attempt a spontaneous interview, and I was off to the show, recorder in tow.To start the evening, two bands opened the show, Balloonatic and Ha Ha Tonka. I was too late for the Balloonatic set, but I did catch Ha Ha Tonka. They were okay, better than most opening bands, but still a little too polished and poppy (alas, not of the opiated sort) for my tastes. They had rough sketches of a Rolling Stones sensibility not short on bluesy power chords and cheesy lyrics, the type of style very popular with young rock bands trying to break the scene. While they did provide some rocking tunes for me to get drunk to, as soon as I looked at the stage, I choked on my Pabst, as they had the appearance of a post-indie radio band destined for one-hit-wonder status. To distract myself, I meandered over to the merchandise table.At the merchandise table is where the night gets interesting. Since I had not paid for a ticket, I decided to buy a concert poster for $10. However, there was no re-entry, and I did not want to hold onto the damn thing all night. I started schmoozing with the merch guy, who eventually said he would walk me through the backstage entrance to run to my car, drop off the poster, and let me back in the Double Door’s second door. Just as we turn toward the backstage area, the man himself, the infamous Cris Kirkwood walks into the bar and starts talking to my new buddy, the merch guy…
…Before I continue with the evening’s story, I would like to preface it by saying that the Meat Puppets originally split up in 1996, due in part to Cris’ raging substance abuse problems. It is widely known that he would partake in just about anything and everything, heroin and cocaine being his substances of choice. There are stories around the web detailing Cris’ rollercoaster life, including two possible deaths (one being his wife) at his Arizona residence where the band used to rehearse. Most recently, he was released from prison in 2005 following an altercation with a security guard at a post office. Apparently, he and a woman began arguing over a parking spot, and when the guard intervened, Cris grabbed the guard’s baton. In the ensuing melee, the guard shot Cris twice, sending him to the hospital, after which he would spend 18 months in prison for felony assault. In summary, Cris is one fucked up dude, at the same time both lucky and cursed. And his appearance told it all: his long, Scarecrow gray hair, his scruffy gray beard, the crazed look in his eyes, and enough wrinkles on his grizzled face for every drug he’s ever done, and probably for each day he spent in the clink. While Cris was dealing with his troubles, brother Curt continued to make stellar music. If you are not familiar, check out the self-titled album by Eyes Adrift, the short-lived supergroup Curt formed with the bassist from Nirvana, Krist Novoselic, and the drummer from Sublime, Bud Gaugh. It’s a wonderful album that any Meat Puppets fan is sure to enjoy. But I digress…
The merch guy nods in my general direction, but Cris was oblivious (as I had expected he would be). I am told to follow them, and proceed to the backstage entrance. Once there, they run out to the street to their van, and I am under the impression that I am about to get high with one of the biggest drug addicts in modern rock history. Unfortunately, all I got was my one quote for the evening…
“Hey, hold that door!“, Cris yelled at me.
There I was standing at the backstage door, turning street people away from the entrance, while the guy I wanted to meet was likely getting high in a van maybe 20 feet away. I felt like a chump. Minutes later, they come back in, Cris breezes right past me, and the merch guy tells me to run fast to my car. I drop off the poster, and return through the backstage entrance. That was the last of my backstage experience for the evening, but not for a lack of trying.
Before the end of the Ha Ha Tonka set, Cris joined them on stage for a short collaborative effort that got the crowd excited. Shortly thereafter, the Meat Puppets show begins, Curt and the new drummer Ted Marcus (who replaced the retired Derrick Bostrom) joining Cris on stage. And to my pleasant surprise, they were tearing up the joint, rockin out like a bunch of high and angry teenagers who had gotten all F’s on their report card because they huffed too much Glade and got grounded for summer break. In other words, they hadn’t lost a step.
I didn’t keep an accurate setlist, for I was much too drunk for that bit of obsessive/compulsive nonsense. I do remember my own highlights, though. I remember the first song I recognized was the title track from Up on the Sun, arguably their best album ever next to Meat Puppets II. It was a great rendition, with Cris jumping around on stage, bangin his head, and laying down thick thumping basslines. At one point, I turned to the merch guy and said, “Goddamn, Cris is playing like a madman, like a man who just got released from prison!” It was funny ’cause it was true, and we both had a good laugh.
The Puppets also played a number of tunes from Meat Puppets II, including the three songs performed with Nirvana during their Unplugged gig, “Plateau,“ “Lake of Fire,” and “Oh, Me.” From my hazy drunken memory, I also remember the songs off their outstanding new album, Rise to Your Knees, fitting in well with their past repertoire, a true sign that this band is not just playing the mid-life crisis/reunion shows, but that in this day and age of poser-wannabe major label indie bands and homogenized crap rock, The Meat Puppets are still a viable rock band, among the best in the business. They encored with their only radio hit, “Backwater,” and I was blown away at how good it still sounds, even after all these years. Curt’s guitar solo in this song alone is worth the price of admission.
After the show, I was told to stick around and there was a possibility I could meet the band. So I hung loose, downed a couple more Pabst, and waited for my opportunity. As time continued to pass, I started to fear I would not get my chance. I decided to take matters into my own hand, and this is where I learned a hard lesson. I found out where the band was, and tried to get past the doorman. After me running my mouth long enough, he went back to ask the band if I could shake their hands. And I quote, “I’m sorry, but the band is trying to get high, and they don’t want to be bothered. You don’t have anything to offer do you?” Well, unfortunately, I didn’t. I had spent the previous couple days leading up to the concert trying to score some combination of illegal substances, but as I’m new to Chicago, I only have a couple connections, all of which were unavailable. I hoped that it would not be an issue, but I was wrong. Instead, I was forced to walk away with my tail between my legs. I mean, what self-respecting music journalist tries to gain access to a backstage pow-wow WITHOUT drugs???? Well, my lesson was learned.
Morals of the story:
1) The Meat Puppets still rock
2) Never approach rock stars without a stash.