Meat Puppets/Porcupine/Czarbles; April 3, 2010; The Warehouse, La Crosse
Kurt Cobain did his best to introduce the world to the Meat Puppets, but despite covering two of their songs during Nirvana’s appearance on MTV Unplugged, his idols still remain under most people’s radar. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to mind much, and every couple years they release a new record and hit the road with an ever-changing line-up. The only constant for the last thirty years has been lead singer/guitarist Curt Kirkwood. Even though the band was founded by Curt and his brother Cris, the latter’s drug problems led Curt to force him out of the band on more than one occasion. In fact, the only other time I’d seen the Meat Puppets many years ago at O’Cayz Corral Cris’s part was being played by Son Volt’s Andrew Duplantis. Tonight though, they were a happy family, with the brothers being joined by Shandon Sahm on drums. While his eye liner drew my suspicions earlier, he quickly proved himself behind the kit. Which shouldn’t be surprising given his musical heritage, his father was Doug Sahm. Coincidentally, Shandon was also the drummer when I saw them at O’Cayz.
The Meat Puppets played an impressively solid set; their only mistake was going on too long. “The set ended twenty minutes ago,” Curt explained, “We’re just screwing around now.” An encore that devolved into random sloppily played covers proved his point, but that couldn’t obscure what they had accomplished already. The two songs that Nirvana had made famous, the warbling “Birds” and “Lake of Fire,” sounded infinitely stronger in their hands. The fact that Curt had chosen to wear sweatpants to the show seemed an odd decision, but he was anything but lazy on the guitar. While Chris doesn’t have the voice of his brother, his turns on lead vocal were forgettable, the band sounded best when the two sang together. The high point of the set was a blistering version of “Backwater” that proved Cobain knew what he was talking about. The upstairs all-ages venue in a town that doesn’t see a lot of touring bands seemed an unlikely spot for the band, but they had played here once before and apparently liked it enough to come back.
The other two bands on the bill were no strangers to the La Crosse stage. Porcupine had formed from the remnants of local band Space Bike, a group I hadn’t thought about in years, but that I remembered really liking back when they used to pop up in Madison clubs fairly often. Their newest member was a smiling hulk of a man behind the drum kit. The goofy grin he flashed throughout their set was charming and endearing. I didn’t know it, but the members of Madison’s Czarbles grew up in La Crosse and bassist Matt explained that his high school bands used to open shows there all the time. This was my first time witnessing their precise instrumental rock, a visceral pummeling that lasted just long enough to leave you wanting more. I’d always been intrigued by their mellifluous moniker, which begs you to say it over and over, but now I’m just as interested in seeing them play again. It seems a bit odd that I went all the way to La Crosse to finally see a band from Madison, but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. And it was totally worth it, for the show and for the fantastic assortment on non-alcoholic beverages the Warehouse carries.