Built to Spill: in the shadow of the Meat Puppets
Jake Weisman
3/23/2008 8:40:04 PM

St. Louis' Pageant was host to a well-attended showing of two great rock and roll imaginations: Built to Spill and the Meat Puppets. How do we define 'Great'? Well....
Think about what a Meat Puppet might be. Keep it up until you have a clear image. Now let its eyes open, and give it a voice so it can read the rest of this article to you in your head.

The Meat Puppets, formed in 1980, and de-formed for varying periods of time up to their reunion in 2006, have gone more for endurance than stardom, and a lot the crowd seemed pretty oblivious as to what they were in for. The kids clumped at the stage were especially nonplussed by first impressions. "Is that guy actually in the band?"

That guy, the old long hair in the t-shirt and track pants, was lead singer and guitarist Curt Kirkwood who plays guitar like you wish you did. In fact, he'd be just another show-off if he wasn't such great songwriter too. Their set included "Plateau" (With its chorus about a bucket and a mop) and "Lake of Fire" (Daddy, Why do they come back on the Fourth of July?) of covered-by-Nirvana fame, and their excellent single from long ago," Backwater". Other songs ranged in style from psychedelic, with long, strange instrumental breaks that didn't suck, to cowpunk with a country backbeat, and some laid-back melodic numbers too. Curt Kirkwood was joined by his meat-brother Chris, who was released from prison in 2006 to reunite the band and trade off on vocals. You can get the back-story dirt on your own, ‘cause all you need to know here is that he fought the Devil, stole his powers, and put them in his bass guitar. These guys belong on stage and if you ever have a chance to see them, do.

Built to Spill was taking it easy, to say the least. It's clear that their energy went into the songwriting, and that's where it stays. None of their faithful fan base seemed to mind.
The long time fans (Including a super-friendly guy at the bar who told me about Built to Spill in the wayback, playing parties and local bars when they were in college in Olympia) got tastes from the whole repertoire, starting with a song from their first album, the 1993 release Ultimate Alternative Wavers and finishing with “Twin Falls” from 1994's There's Nothing Wrong With Love and “Carry the Zero” off of 1999’s (masterpiece, I’m told), Keep It Like a Secret.

Unique in their lineup are the three guitars that come out best when they braid their lines together through the numerous textural shifts of a song, like “Carry the Zero,” and least in the droning wall-of-sound space-outs that really make you wonder how indie rockers could knock the Grateful Dead. Doug Marsch sang sweetly through his sleepy turtle face to great effect on the catching “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss,” and “In Your Mind”. Would it have been asking too much though, for Marsch to rough us up a little, and really belt one out? Don’t we go to shows for the intensity?

What Built to Spill fans know, however, is that the real payoff is in the best possible place: the words. Of those, Marsch has plenty, and they are wise, telling, and full of imagery. From Big Dipper: “That brontasaurus must have stood a thousand miles high / That brontasaurus laying on its side up in the sky, “ to describe the shape of the constellation The Big Dipper, which for some abstract associative reason, makes perfect sense as the title of a song about an isolated alcoholic. The culled-from-life feel of Twin Falls also comes to mind. It’s what makes Built To Spill records so great, and if you ever have a chance to see them live, try to find a Meat Puppets show.


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