When recalcitrant frontman Kurt Cobain murmured, ''We're big fans of theirs'' after inviting Meat Puppets brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood onstage during Nirvana's MTV Unplugged appearance, he may have guaranteed more sales of the Puppets' latest LP, Too High to Die, than years of good reviews ever could.
Ten years of good reviews to be exact. The Phoenix-based trio first set the rock press abuzz and became name-dropping fodder for college-radio types in 1983 with their second album, Meat Puppets II. When they were still playing house parties in 1980, the brothers Kirkwood and drummer Derrick Bostrom released a seven-inch EP, In a Car, as a speed-punk band. They signed with Orange County's legendary indie label SST (former home of Husker Dü and Sonic Youth) in 1981 and metamorphosed over seven albums and another EP through a kaleidoscope of styles -- hardcore, country picking, Deadhead-like psychedelia, heavy metal. By 1985 their whimsical desert twang had made them one of the most acclaimed bands on the underground scene, but their anemic sales awarded them the dreaded consolation-prize tag ''critics' darlings.''
''It's only recently that punk-rock underground music took on one more eccentric tentacle -- that to be a really bitchin' punk-rock band you must also be successful,'' says guitarist-songwriter Curt Kirkwood. ''I don't know how that happened, since the very word underground means that your style and substance and art should preempt your actual commercial endeavor.'' Still, Kirkwood does approve of certain ripples caused by Nirvana's big splash. The Puppets' larger audiences of the past couple years, he says, ''are actually a lot nicer than the original punk audiences. A lot of the hard-core punkers seemed to want to beat me up a lot more than these guys do.''