Once the weird sloppy energy of our first album was behind us, the Meat Puppets worked hard to polish our studio chops. The warm response to "Up On the Sun" rewarded our efforts. The album exposed us to a wider audience and cemented our place in the echelon of American indie bands. But if we thought we'd spend 1985 basking in the glory of our breakthrough release, we were in for a rude surprise.
Before we knew it, the media trained its microscope on us. Even popular groups like the Replacements and R.E.M. took heat in the press for their so-called "unprofessionalism." The Puppets never stood a chance. We noodled too much between songs, futzed with our equipment and argued over what to play. We peppered our performances with insults and in-jokes. We played more classic rock covers than we did our own songs. Meanwhile, the casual fan coming to hear "Swimming Ground" ran for the exit.
The question now asserted itself: would we be foolish enough to squander our big opportunity? Would we insist upon staying true to ourselves? Or would we smarten up and knuckle under to the wiser forces of the market? We began to worry that we might be blowing it. This was a painful notion for us to face, and an even tougher one to face down. The year was filled with self-recrimination, second-guessing and finger-pointing.
As we fought our demons in the trenches, audiences slowly began to take up our cause. Most in the mainstream still considered us too raw for the great unwashed masses. And perhaps they were right -- the audio evidence here speaks for itself. I only kept my favorite bits of our live recordings back then; few complete shows survive. But what remains is a pretty accurate record of how hard we worked. In fact, these recordings -- both hard rocking and hilarious -- are among my favorites. After a year of constant touring, we still took a lot of chances on stage, but we also learned to take fewer casualties. As word spread about our unpredictable stage shows, we started to develop a reputation we could be proud of.
More from 1985, for the truly obsessive:
The complete show from Rock Isle, in poorer quality:
SST's "The Tour" video in its entirety:
Cris destroys his bass at the Peppermint Lounge:
The Meat Puppets at the Gila Monster Jamboree: