Friday, October 10, 2014

Holy Ghosts ands Talk Show Hosts

October is here and time for another Band of the Month - and another entry in the bands of the 80s, too, for that matter. But what can I say - when I got out of college, I started buying records, going to shows, reading about music - turned into a bit of a nerd about it. Went looking for stuff that could fill my head with music I wanted to hear....

Like the Meat Puppets. In the summer of 1987 I got Mirage - I loved it. I was obsessing over Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in those days, and the Stooges, and I guess the Meat Puppets landed cleanly in the middle of that. I remember that summer - we had an enclosed porch in the apartment, and I took it over mostly, with my desk and books and record player out there, and would listen to records while reading or writing or whatever I did... I remember the mornings, especially - getting up, getting a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch and listening to a side of a record before I had to go to work. Puppets - Hank - maybe the Velvets now and then, the Feelies - but especially the Meat Puppets. Mirage is their airiest record, right? swirling guitars, those rough harmonies, loose, light songs, countrified bass lines - great stuff, and a perfect way to get a day started.

Over the years, then, they have been a comfort - they kept putting out records throughout he early 90s when I wasn't really listening to rock, and I kept buying them, liking them - still do! - though maybe not as much as the 80s records. Of course that gets us to an irony - once I discovered them, I jumped right out and bought their music - on LP, not CD - and so later on, I would go years without being able to listen to Up on the Sun, until I broke down and bought them again on CD. Technology - man... Still, they were in my head - I rather obsessed over Mirage and Huevos (and I think I got Huevos on CD, pretty early, so I could get my Look at the Rain fix a few times a year) - and the 90s records were still pretty good. They always made me happy - good songs, their sound, and the fact that every song seemed to be about food, drugs or masturbation - simple pleasures!

I saw them play live, twice, in the late 80s/early 90s. The second show, around the time of Forbidden Places I think - was strangely disappointing - they were sloppy, the material a little less sharp, their performance kind of routine... It was surprising because I'd seen them when they were touring Huevos, and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. I suppose they might have been as sloppy and shambolic as the later gig, but their casual style was a big part of the appeal - the way it makes their music sound effortless, like three guys in a garage, or - and I admit this is something I can't ever get out of the back of my head - like the people who got up and sang at church when I was a kid. Who might or might not be able to carry a tune, but somehow, meant it - and could somehow get across the strength of the songs themselves, through the imperfect vessels of their earthly bodies. So that first show I saw - they were so good. Curt was inspired - soloing all over the place, kind of pushing home the fact that they were a very good set of musicians. All their charms were there to see. The great songs; their loose, adventurous style; the messy, but deceptively competent harmonies; the sense of fun they showed - funny, smarter than they act, and enjoying themselves and all the noise they were making; with clever, well played covers; all of it going on and on, a sheer joy.

All right. They've been at it for 30 plus years now, and have produced a nice body of work - still putting out records that remain likable and listenable (if not quite something I can obsess about). Though there's no getting around the quality of the first decade of music. And so, to get to it - here is what I take to be their 10 best songs:

1. Look at the Rain
2. Crazy
3. Up on the Sun
4. Lake of Fire
5. A Hundred Miles
6. Plateau
7. Shine
8. Beauty
9. Paradise
10. Swimming Ground

Videos: kind of a mixed bag out there - lots of newer footage, most of which is quite competent - but maybe lacks both the shambles and the moments of transcendence they had in their prime. But there is some - this, say - vintage Look at the Rain, shot off a TV screen:

Here is Up on the Sun and I Can't Be Counted On, 1990:

Lake of Fire, mid-90s, Kurt letting his inner shredder out a little:

A 2011 cover of the Sloop John B:

And a cover version of Plateau, featuring the Kirkwood brothers on guitars:

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