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The Man In The Van With A Bass In His Hand

May 3rd, 2005 | No Comments | Categories: Uncategorized |

Went to see Mike Watt at the ICA this evening. He’s a bit of a punk legend, particularly in the States, where his first band, The Minutemen, inspired a whole generation of American punk bands in the 80s. In the mid-90s he made his first solo album, on which a who’s who of the American alternative scene paid their respects to Watt – members of Nirvana, The Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, The Pixies, Black Flag, The Rollins Band, Sonic Youth, Porno For Pyros etc. etc. all appeared on the record with him.

I met Watt a couple of years ago at The Bass Bash in Anaheim during NAMM, where he played a set with Kira, as ‘Dos’ – just two basses and voices – a resolutely low-fi punk set at an evening of fusion twiddling. Great subversive stuff. We also chatted alot that evening, and he revealed himself to be a deep, intellegent musician commited to maintaining his integrity as an artist, and staying true to his original punk ethic – DIY, and don’t take shit from anyone – even when signed to a major label.

Tonight he played all the tracks from his latest album – The SecondMan’s Middle Stand – from start to finish. It is, he says, a ‘sickness opera’ – a song-cycle based on his near-fatal illness, in three sections; hell, purgatory and heaven.

The music is very difficult to describe – very intricately written but playing with a punk abandon, the arrangements stop on a dime, switch time signatures, have unison phrases for all three musicians (the line-up is a trio of organ, bass and drums – not your typical punk lineup!) and then switch to full on dissonant avant garde scariness, and back to more conventional song forms. The dynamic range is huge, from a whisper to ear-splitting rock-out, and at the heart of it all is Watt’s aggressive, adventurous bass playing. All in all, marvellous stuff, impossible to accurately pigeonhole, deeply personal, and definitely music that rewards repeat listening.

He’s on tour in the UK for another week – go and see him if you can, but leave any preconceptions at the door. Do take earplugs though – it gets very loud! I’m so out of practice with ‘rock’ gigs – the volume scared the life out of me til I got my plugs in.

Watt’s tour diary makes for great reading too, though be warned, he speaks his own language, so the Pedrospeak Primer might help!

SoundtrackMike Watt, ‘The Secondman’s Middle Stand'; Mike Watt, ‘Contemplating The Engine Room’.

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