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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Cait Reviews the Iowa Arts (ob)Scene: Karen Meat at Gardner

Karen Meat, the pop-rock project of Arin Eaton with Dana Telsrow, played to an enthusiastic crowd at Gardner Lounge on Friday, Feb. 8. Contributed photo.

A band goes to the doctor. They say they’re depressed. They say life is harsh and cruel, that they feel all alone in a threatening world. The doctor says, “Treatment is simple, the great pop-rock goofsters Karen Meat are in town tonight. Go see them — that should pick you up.” The band bursts into tears and says, “But doctor … we are the great pop-rock goofsters Karen Meat.”

Like the woeful Pagliacci, referenced famously in Alan Moore’s seminal “Watchmen” comic, Karen Meat makes evident the depressing banalities of modern life through their deadpan antics and penchant for ironic bits. Surrounded by a small crowd of Karen Meat-devotees (or Meatheads, as I prefer to call them), I was seduced into the pre-show hype through tales of flamboyant stage tricks and tasty, tasty guitar licks. Even before their opening performance of “Share a Dinner,” the spectral presence of the two band members, Arin and Dana, quietly setting up their equipment in matching primary-colored circus smocks stirred something inside of me.

Karen Meat’s detached camp sensibility seems, to a certain extent, inextricable from their lyrical earnestness and familiarity. Even while sitting on Dana like he was an ottoman and artfully droning the words to “Sad Dog,” the emotional weight of Arin’s writing shone through. Who among us hasn’t plopped on the floor of our friend’s dorm room at the end of a shitty week and recounted our personal drama through stoned theatrics and strained laughter? In this sense, Karen Meat’s indie-rock sad-clowning feels like the physical manifestation of millennial social malaise, sugar-coated with irony, that makes the absurdity of coping with the pitfalls of human intimacy even more apparent.

Every time I thought the band was at their peak for the night, they continued to prove me wrong. A delightfully jangly opening performance of “Share a Dinner,” in all its Shangri-La-esque glory, was heightened by some friendly deadpan face-caressing between Dana and Arin and followed by the aforementioned human furniture-play during “Sad Dog.” At one point, in a moment that will forever be burned into my psyche as the beginning of my Meat-freak transformation, Arin spit a hearty stream of bottled water into Dana’s mouth, which he then regurgitated into a fine mist like goddamn Old Faithful. I felt a real sense of comradery when the entirety of the audience huddled around the band, who were stacked on top of each other like two small boys in a single trench coat, and shouted the lyrics to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in unison (kind of).

There is really no end to the comparisons you could make with this band. Attending a Karen Meat concert is like sitting in the splash zone at SeaWorld Orlando with a synth-pop cover of the Smiths playing in the background instead of the Shamu theme song. Attending a Karen Meat concert is like playing charades and having every answer be a relatable depression meme you just saw on your Instagram feed. But, most of all, attending a Karen Meat concert is like watching the Great Clown Pagliacci, jamming through the pain with self-aware tricks and goofs.

Karen Meat, the pop-rock project of Arin Eaton with Dana Telsrow, played to an enthusiastic crowd at Gardner Lounge on Friday, Feb. 8. Contributed photo.
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