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Still Bonding : The Meat Puppets, friends since 1977, will perform material from their yet-untitled London album Saturday at the Palomino.

April 16, 1993|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times.

The Meat Puppets were in Memphis last week, but not as a stop on a concert tour or for a Southern vacation. The rock trio from Phoenix was in the town of Sun Records and Graceland and Booker T. and the MGs to record an album.

Not so long ago, the Meat Puppets cut albums of hard-rocking-folk-country-psychedelia music at whatever studio was closest to home, dropping off the finished product at their independent record company without much warning. That was before the band was enlisted into the major label roster of London Records. Now the band is faced--not unhappily--with producers and schedules and other new signs of seriousness.

None of it, said singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood, has much impact on the quality and texture of the Meat Puppets' music. The band's still-untitled second release for London will focus for the first time on music led by an acoustic guitar. And it will largely be that material that the band brings to its performance Saturday night at the Palomino in North Hollywood.

"It's different for me because I never owned an acoustic guitar," Kirkwood said by phone from Memphis. "I still don't. I just borrow them."

Even so, Kirkwood's acoustic guitar doesn't mean a change in volume for the Meat Puppets on Saturday, he said. He promises to adjust his sound levels to keep pace with his brother Cris Kirkwood's electric bass, drummer Derrick Bostrum's relentless pounding and the bandleader's own raw vocals.

The show will begin with the new acoustic-based material, followed by a set of older electric music. "The only thing that is different is that the guitar is wooden" for the acoustic songs, Kirkwood said. "It gives the voices a lot more space."

The Meat Puppets originally planned just to record a few acoustic songs for an extended-play release. "But the sessions were going so good we decided to do it for a whole album."

The record is expected to be released later this year. It's the band's first since 1991's "Forbidden Places," which was produced by Pete Anderson--a veteran producer and sideman for Dwight Yoakam and Michelle Shocked--and was given an "excellent" rating in the Rolling Stone Album Guide.

This time, the Meat Puppets have been working with Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers as producer, with the occasional guest musician, including keyboardist Jim Dickinson.

In most ways, Kirkwood said, the band's collective attitude toward itself and music has remained steady since the Meat Puppets were launched at Phoenix house parties.

"The three of us have been friends since '77," Kirkwood said. "The kinds of bonds that we have are the ones that you form in your teens. You get a naive sort of bonding over stupid things, and we still have it."

Initially focused on the white noise of raw punk, the members of the Meat Puppets soon added elements of country and psychedelics. "We just knew we were sick of rock 'n' roll, and whatever was going on was stupid. We're still kind of rebellious."

But the broader popularity the band is experiencing now, epitomized by its deal with a major label, comes a decade later than Kirkwood expected. Back in 1983, critics for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere awarded the group rave reviews for the "Meat Puppets II" album, and great things were expected to follow.

When the band subsequently courted the big record companies, Kirkwood said, "they said they didn't know how to market it.

"I thought the music was that viable, especially back then," he said. "Back 10 years ago, it was awesome. It was everything that I wanted from music at the time. And I saw no reason why it was shunned."

Now that Kirkwood and the band have moved on from the independent SST Records to London, there are more opportunities in terms of touring, recording and the rest.

Other things haven't changed so much. "It's not like people are coming up and wanting me to be in the new Lou Diamond Phillips movie or anything."

Where and When What: The Meat Puppets performing with the bands Possum Dixon and Giant Sand. Location: The Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Hours: 9 p.m. Saturday. Price: $12. Call: (818) 764-4010.

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