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Once again, while Stone Temple Pilots were supposed to be the heart of the musical meal, another band wound up being the meatiest portion.

The Meat Puppets, a combo from Phoenix, Ariz., stole Tuesday night's Triad Center Amphitheater three-band bill from STP - much like the way Texas's Butthole Surfers upstaged them in a Saltair show last year.Playing an unusual brand of psychedelic country-pun, with chunks of funk and blues thrown in, the Meat Puppets finally seem to be getting the respect they deserve from a wider musical audience. Witness the Triad crowd, which seemed to number more than 2,000.

Despite starting slowly - guitarist Curt Kirkwood had a hard time hitting some of the higher notes of "Violet Eyes" and "We Don't Exist" - the newly expanded quartet really hit its stride on the country/folk-tinged numbers "Shine" and "Why?"

Decent work from newcomer Troy Meiss, who plays rhythm guitar, allowed Kirkwood room to work wondrous solos on the alternative-rock smash "Backwater," a bluesy boogie ode that recalls the 'Pups' heroes, ZZ Top, in places, and "Never to Be Found."

And startlingly fresh versions of older songs, including a more professional-sounding revision of "Lake of Fire," the rapid-fire pop of "Sam" and the bruising "Attacked By Monsters," were more than enough to win over over the most cynical in the crowd.

On such a rewarding musical evening, it would have been easy to forgive former San Diego residents Stone Temple Pilots for their obvious pilfering of grunge gods Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, if not for the fact that I'd swear they lip-synched their entire set - at least what I heard until smarmy lead vocalist Scott Weiland's shameful discussions concerning nauseating sexual practices headed me toward the exit.

STP's sophomore effort, "Purple," which probably describes the prose Weiland writes for some of the band's more overwrought numbers, really isn't too horrible - given the recent and more unforgivable ripoffs by Soundgarden and Alice in Chains of the psychedelic metal made fashionable by fellow Washingtonians Screaming Trees. But the "live" treatments given those songs, especially "Vaseline," just sounded a little too much like the vinyl versions to be a coincidence.

It really isn't fair to attack the band as being grunge "poseurs" as they've been called in some of the larger musical trades, as Candlebox and others display even less talent for songwriting, but lack of live musical prowess and sickening diatribes by lead men isn't about to do much for a skeptical music critic than give him a severe case of indigestion. Waiter - check, please!

On the positive side, Washington, D.C., four-piece Jawbox was probably the perfect appetizer for the evening.

Playing the more experimental brand of hardcore punk-rock popularized by Fugazi before that band got too big for its britches and too pretentious in scope, Jawbox also won over some in the crowd, largely on the strength of the driving "Chicago Piano," "Jackpot Plus!" and a new number, "Absentee," that showed that the move to a major record label hasn't spoiled this one-time independent label success.