Curt Kirkwood

One Eyed Jacks

January 30, 2006

"Clap, you bastards." This is roughly what Luke Allen told a group of too-cool-for-school youngsters at Curt Kirkwood's solo acoustic show at One Eyed Jacks Monday night. Tuesday night I caught up with Allen, who was bartending at The Circle Bar while The Zydepunks played. He said it took balls for Kirkwood to get up there by himself. He said he knew what it felt like to play in that room when it was less than half-full.

I'm gonna divert attention to The Zydepunks, for a second, 'cause I wanna say a few things about their performance last night. At 1 a.m., the living room was full of grey and black-striped Bywater kids(circus punks). They showed no sign of slowing down or realizing it was getting later. They were dancing up a storm to The Zydepunks mix of zydeco, punk, Irish, two-step, and polka. The drummer was on fire. His machine gun attack during the more vicious jigs was visceral and a sure call-to-arms. It was just as nice, though, when the band slowed down for more lesiurely, romantic numbers. Allen made the observation that the bar was mixed with punks, yuppies, and rednecks. I was actually sitting right next to the rednecks when they started talking some nonsense about how the southern states are better than the nothern ones. Some micro-jingoistic blah-blah-blah. One of the punk girls started talking to the rednecks, and it felt like I was about to have to witness the wolves eating the sheep. Luckily, Allen picked up on this, as well, and said something to the girl. As far as the differences between the punks and the rednecks go, it's better to be smelly than be a shithead.

Back to Kirkwood's show. It was a revelation. I wasn't expecting much of anything, mostly because I'm not familiar with the Meat Puppets material. I just know what every other kid that grew up on alternative rock knows--they wrote "Backwater," "Oh, Me," "Plateau," and "Lake of Fire." Kirkwood, the lead guitarist for the Meat Puppets, the highly influential country-punk band, played prideful and enjoyable versions of these songs, along with other Puppets tunes. The Puppets tunes were the ones with the zany, nihilistic, psychedelic, and earthy lyrics. As Allen pointed out, Kirkwood came up with all these great non-sequitors. Like a Dail painting explained to children.

Kirkwood played for ninety minutes with barely anyone within twenty feet of him. Most everyone hung back and sat down since most of Kirkwood's material was folky. Some of the songs incorporated a twang and a punk pace, but the most out-of place yet enjoyable tunes were the country and bluegrass-tinged songs. Close to the end of the set, Kirkwood was more fired up, and it seemed like he was trying to see just how fast he could play. I'm sure what I'm about to desribe has happened a million times before, but I can't resist the opportunity to tie Kirkwood to Nirvana. On Nirvana's "D7," the band plays the first half at medium pace, only to speed up to a punk tempo for the repeated second half. Kirkwood did this Monday night, as well.

The more reserved, slower-paced, sentimental material came from Kirkwood's new debut solo album, "Snow." The most memorable ones were "Lightbulb," "Circles," and "Beautiful Weapon." On "Circles," Kirkwood's coincidental? circular picking was hypnotic. Like when you get spun around too many times and come out of it laughing, refreshed, and dizzy. "Beautiful Weapon" was the most vulnerable song. It had the kind of earnest lyrics that make you wonder, "Is this sweet or just cheesy?"

The odds were stacked up against Kirkwood from the beginning of the show, because it's normal to wonder if a solo acoustic performer should be playing the open mic across the street instead of getting paid. Kirkwood barreled through the songs, not giving anyone enough time to question what he was doing. He didn't say more than "hello," but he didn't have to. His songs, playing, and lyrics provided me with such a filling, complete experience(performance), I didn't need another word. Kirkwood gambled by performing alone, but in the end, he won the prize because the songs were so pure that way. Pure and clean is nice every now and then.

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