by Ian Miller
Meat Puppets, Retribution Gospel Choir
Sunday, June 14
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Another side project of Low’s Alan Sparhawk, Retribution Gospel Choir has one self-titled album, and they play rock songs with loud guitars filtered by Sparhawk’s somewhat stoic presentation. Last night at Cat’s Cradle, the trio quickly turned its amplifiers up and kept them there (so much so, in fact, that I had to go back to the bar to fetch a pair of earplugs). Opening with the song “Breaker,” originally featured in drastically different form on Low’s latest LP Drums and Guns, the boys from Duluth dug into murky feedback while still highlighting Sparhawk’s comforting croon. Even when he yelped about how “the Salvation army is all out of ammo,” his cathartic vocal qualities still rang clear, a plainspoken friendliness further highlighted by his set-ending remark: “Thank you for coming out and joining us on your Sabbath.”
Hey, you’re welcome.
The Meat Puppets strolled on stage after a long intermission. The trio’s been off and on again for almost three decades, and, last night, they had the unenviable task of holding their own with their contemporaries for a crowd that ranged from 14-year-old skaters to 50-year-old hippies. They went for the hits, naturally, or a slew of tunes from 1984's Meat Puppets II, popularized by the inclusion of three of its songs in a collaboration on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged special. Those songs served as reminders of the Pups’ touchstone status, even to indie bands forming today: Once ostracized for his complex technique by the hardcore scene, Curt Kirkwood put his magic fingers to work in a gambit of styles; rock, thrash and “cow punk,” for which many claim the Pups planted the seed. His brother, Cris, bounced around as though time had not aged him. He clawed at his bass like a hungry hound at the screen door. Drummer Ted Marcus (P.S. He's the spitting image of Kevin Spacey.) kept the beat fluid, his versatility perfect for the Pups’ stylistic variability.
The night belonged to the really big moment, though, or when Retribution Gospel Choir jumped back on stage for a nearly 20-minute jam of II’s “Plateau.” Sparhawk plaintively strummed his Les Paul and watched the antics of The Meat Puppets, staring at a pair of brothers who never cared to grow up. As the half-filled club beat on the stage for a second encore, I was reminded by the Pups only charting single, “Backwater." Indeed, "some things never change.”