Meat Puppets/Mike Watt - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Meat Puppets / Mike Watt

Live in Grand Rapids (2017)

live show

The Grand Rapids area has long been a craft beer mecca. What started with Bell’s Brewery in nearby Kalamazoo has really taken root in GR. It seems like there’s a new taproom popping up every other week. Many of these upstart breweries regularly feature live music. There are plenty of chances to see cool bands for cheap if you’re willing to shell out $5 or more for a pint of beer. (On the previous evening, Mustard Plug plus solid local punk support played at Unruly Brewing for a $5 cover.) The grandaddy of the local breweries is Founders in downtown Grand Rapids. They’ve got huge indoor and outdoor seating areas, a store, tasty sandwiches and many wonderful beers on tap. On Saturday May 6th, they also offered an opportunity to see punk legends Meat Puppets and Mike Watt for a five spot.

Mike Watt really needs no introduction. He’s about as close as you can get to punk rock royalty, and is one of the most famous and respected bass player of the genre. From his early days with The Minutemen, to multiple collaborations, to Firehose, to his solo stuff, to his more recent gig with The Stooges, the dude has had quite a career. I’ve managed to see him a couple of times over the years. I first saw him in the mid 90’s supporting his solo album Ball-Hog or Tugboat? (1995). More recently, he blew my mind with Iggy and The Stooges at Riot Fest Chicago in 2012. Watt actually has a long history with the Meat Puppets’ Kirkwood brothers. Both were on SST Records in the early 80’s, and The Minutemen and Meat Puppets even covered each other's songs.

This time around, Watt was touring with The Jom and Terry Show. They’ve been his backup band off and on since 2001, and they play as a trio with Watt on bass/vocals, Tom Watson on guitar/vocals and Jerry Trebotic on drums. I really had no idea what to expect. What we got were a bunch of funky, jazzy, punky songs by three talented musicians who seemed very comfortable together. The 50 minute set did included quite a few Minutemen tunes. (Please don’t ask me to name them.) Watt acted amazed that people still cared about “songs that he wrote with D. Boone 36 or 37 years ago.” He was like the ultimate punk dad, graying and dressed in his signature flannel shirt. He was folksy and deliberate and seemed genuinely grateful to still be playing music after all these years. It’s also worth noting that Watt was cool enough to make himself available for photos and autographs after his set.

Like a lot of people, my first exposure to Meat Puppets was due to the whole Nirvana/grunge connection. In 1993, main Meat Puppets Curt (guitar/vocals) and Cris (bass) Kirkwood famously sat in for three songs with Nirvana for their now legendary MTV Unplugged in New York live performance/album. They played “Lake of Fire”, “Oh, Me” and “Plateau”, all from Meat Puppets ll (1984). The next year the band had their own minor grunge hit with “Backwater” from their best selling Too High To Die (1994) album. A little digging into their back catalog showed that since their 1980 beginning, the Arizona based band has been almost impossible to pin down musically. Meat Puppets have played hardcore punk, psychedelic rock, cow-punk, grunge and other drug crazed rock and roll that doesn’t even have a proper name.

I had seen Meat Puppets a few years ago, so I knew enough to expect the unexpected. With Curt’s son Elmo filling out their sound on second guitar, the quartet kept us at attention for an hour and forty minutes. They played all of the songs covered by Nirvana, but they were not very similar to those succinct, acoustic versions. All three included extended psychedelic jams. They also hit a bunch of their other favorites like “Lost”, “Comin’ Down”, “Attacked By Monsters” and “Up on the Sun”. Of course, there were a couple of eclectic covers. “Whisky in the Jar” is a traditional Irish tune, but you’re more likely to know it because of the Thin Lizzy or Metallica versions. Meat Puppets put a cow-punk twist on it, much like they did with the old country song “Tennessee Stud”. (I’m most familiar the Johnny Cash version.) “Backwater” was conspicuously absent, but you could hardly feel cheated. Overall, it was a very enjoyable performance, even if it was at times a bit meandering.

*I’m really not much of a beer snob. You’re more likely to find me sipping a tall can of PBR or High Life than some pretentious brew. That being said, I’ve developed a pretty serious appreciation for Founders. For those who are curious, here’s what drank at the show:

Centennial IPA 7.2% ABV

PC Pils 5.5% ABV

Skeleton Key Black Lager 5.5% ABV