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Pop Music Reviews : Meat Puppets Aim for the Major Leagues

In front of a Roxy crowd conspicuous for the number of major-label talent scouts on hand Wednesday, the Meat Puppets was on its best behavior--little of the indulgent spaceyness and carelessness that had plagued some past appearances and plenty of the glistening, compact, left-of-center rock that put the band at the top of the underground a couple years ago.

Good thing, too. After spending those couple years unable to make good on its major-league potential, this could be the Phoenix trio’s last chance for a shot at the big time. Given those circumstances, you could almost hear the label reps ticking off the band’s pluses and minuses in their heads during the first of two sets Wednesday:

--A plus for good vibes; the Puppets evoke the sunny desert mind-set as well as the Beach Boys do the sand ‘n’ surf scene.

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--Another plus for musicianship; Curt Kirkwood is a phenomenally nimble guitar player, and the interplay he creates with his bassist brother Chris and drummer Derrick Bostrom is often complex, and yet still sloppily (in a good way) spontaneous. This is true throughout the band’s range, from shimmering ditties to head-banging crunchers.

--One more plus for intangibles; there’s a certain endearing quality to these three long-haired ragamuffins.

But on the other hand:

--A minus for singing; Curt Kirkwood doesn’t just strain for the high notes, he strains for every note.

--A minus for depth; the most prominent--and sometimes sole--emotion evident in the Puppets’ songs is whimsy, though some new material at least felt (words were hard to pick out) like the band was exploring new territories.

Added up, the Meat Puppets landed in the plus column Wednesday, a band that still deserves a shot at the majors.


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