The Man In The Van With A Bass In His Hand

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’.

Top notch comedy night

Went to a very fine comedy gig last night – organised by James Cary – an exceedingly funny man himself – the gig featured absurdist standup from Milton Jones, comedy performance poetry from Jude Simpson and Paul Kerensa – I don’t think I’ve seen a more consistently funny comedy gig in a long time – no lame warm-up act here. Paul’s style is old school observational stuff and word play, and he does it brilliantly. Jude is all set to be the new Victoria Wood – comedy poetry that’s both hilarious and brilliantly constructed, it’s a joy to hear language (ab)used in such a creative way.

And Milton – one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen. It’s about the fourth time I’ve seen him do his show, and even the repeat gags get funnier every time. I heartily recommend going to see any of them if they are doing standup near you.

It was also one of those gigs where you know half the audience – Jam and Melissa, Evil Harv, Mini Harv, Andy Flan, Darren Greenbelt, the blokes out of Infinite Number Of Monkeys… much fun, and a fine night out.

Soundtrack – Green Day, ‘American Idiot’ (left here by a student, and marvellous it is too – must buy this); more of me and Cleveland.

Gawd Bless Morgan Spurlock

I’d seen it before, but last night was the UK TV premier of SuperSize Me – Morgan Spurlock’s documentary that follows his challenge to live for a month on nothing but McDonalds.

He did it in response to the legal cases in america where obese kids were sueing fast-food companies for making them fat. Now, apart from the initial reaction of incredulity that people couldn’t know that a McDiet would mess up your health, the challenge to the psuedo health nonsense put out by the burger giants makes pretty compelling viewing. Spurlock is fantastic on camera, and his range of interviewees is superb and enlightening.

The failure of anyone from McDonalds PR to get back to him speaks volumes, as does this supremely bogus site that comes up tops if you do a google search on Morgan Spurlock a psuedo-debate site, claiming to debunk the film, run, of course, by McDonalds themselves.

Fried, GM, reheated, reconstituted meat products should not constitute any part of a healthy balanced diet. If they don’t make you ill, it’s just a fantastic testimony to the ability of our bodies to recover from invasion. Just don’t do it – that crap is addictive, unhealthy and won’t actually sort out your hunger.

If you must eat fast food, get a salad sandwich from Subway or something!

I’ve also just found that Morgan Spurlock has a blog – yippee! Top man, three cheers for Morgan Spurlock – bring on the closure of every McDonalds in the land.

Soundtrack – the rough mixes from yesterday’s recording session with Cleveland Watkiss – some fantastic stuff, some overly-long sprawling stuff ripe for editing. But over-all, a very promising first session!

Another website tweak.

As you can see, I’ve tweaked the site again – added a little header image. It’s actually taken from the back of the Edinburgh Festival flyer that I was working on yesterday – I liked it so much I thought I’d add it to the site.

I also briefly added another picture of me to the whitespace down the right hand side of the screen, but it was a bit much.

The tough bit was formatting the design on the forum page to work with it – took me ages, but I did it. I didn’t even need to get Sarda or The Captain to help me this time! (this makes a change, I’m usually pretty reliant on the two of them for web advice… both are PHP gurus.)

So there you go.

Soundtrack – Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack Dejohnette, ‘Always Let Me Go’; Charlie Haden, ‘American Dreams’; Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’.

the revelations from Iraq just keep on coming…

So the death toll of Iraqis who’ve died in US custody in Iraq now stands at 108 according to this BBC report – 25% are being investigated as possible abuse cases.

Here’s the breakdown –

“The AP found that of the 108 deaths in US custody:

  • At least 26 have been investigated as criminal homicide involving the abuse of prisoners
  • At least 29 are attributed to suspected natural causes or accidents
  • Twenty-two are blamed on an insurgent mortar attack on Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004
  • At least 20 are attributed to “justifiable homicide”, where investigations found US troops used deadly force appropriately – primarily against rioting, escaping or threatening prisoners.

Those are pretty horrific statistics. 29/108 dying of ‘natural causes or accidents’ – what kind of set up are they running??? Accidents doing what? Natural causes? are they imprisoning sever asthmatics without access to medication? that’s a huge percentage to attribute to those two factors.

And the ‘justifiable homicide’ – justifiable in the way that the shooting of an Italian intellegence agent was ‘justifiable’??

It just goes on and on, the list of crimes being committed, the collapse of the rationale in the first place, the further information about the illegality of the British government’s case for war.

The biggest tragedy is that the next election won’t be a proper referendum on the war – Blair has taken us into this mess, but the alternative if we vote him out is so grim.

I just hope that between now and the election the Lib Dems come up with enough good stuff and media profile to dent both parties. They were the only ones that were anti-war all along, and do seem to have the most coherent policy set for this election. I just fear they don’t have the internal infrastructure for government.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny/Charlie Haden, ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’ (one of the most beautiful albums ever made); Alison Moyet, ‘Greatest Hits’.

"out of the mouths of totalitarian regimes.."

…as they (don’t usually) say – This article from the BBC has China highlighting America’s human rights abuses, in the wake of Washington’s report on Human Rights around the world. What a jumbled mess of moral equivalence that is! One regime known for it’s use of torture and imprisonment without trial accusing another nation who use torture and imprisonment without trial of HR abuses… So the key is to do it to your own people, or Tibetans?

The big question here is why does it take China to point out the gross inconsistencies in the US position on democracy, human rights and international relations. Why isn’t every national leader on the planet lambasting Washington for their evil two-faced-ness??

grim stuff.

Life affirming music

So last night I went to see Gary Husband’s Force Majeure band play at Ronnie Scott’s. Unbelieveable. Truly marvellous, energising, inspiring, life affirming music. Very dense and complex and spooky at times, but never less than awe-inspiring. The quality of the musicians is one rarely seen on one stage – Matthew Garrison was obviously a big draw, being one of my favourite bassists in the whole world, a great player and a lovely guy. He played really really well, and the rest of the band, made up of some of America’s finest fusion musicians were all on top form.

The audience was chock full of lovely bassists, including Mo Foster, Dave Swift, Nick Fyffe, Oroh Angiama, Michael Mondesir, Nathan King, Dave Marks – it’s rare that we all get to meet up, so much fun was had.

If you can get to any of the gigs, please please do – it’s not easy listening, it’ll demand your attention and energy, but it’s a band not to be missed, playing Gary’s beatiful compositions.

Go on, go and book tickets!

Some things are just so… WRONG!!

OK, so I was checking out the site of a venue that a friend of mine’s band are playing at, and found this list of events for the week – I draw your attention to the listing for the 28th – “ALL YOU CAN EAT FISH AND CHIPS FOLLOWED BY KARAOKE @10PM” – all you can eat fish and chips?????????? WTF???? I don’t even eat fish, in fact, find the whole idea of eating any kind of animal completely twisted, but I’m still really really wierded out by the combination of this most british of institutions coupled with that most heinous of american serving disasters. It’s like asking if you want to supersize a Vegetable Balti. Just Plain Wrongness.

I mean, OK, so it’s an English theme pub, but still, ‘all you can eat fish and chips’????? no no no no no no no. Stop it.

Soundtrack, ‘Back In The Circus’.

American Tales pt 1

So I’m currently in Santa Cruz, having survived NAMM, and the drive north, and one gig with Michael Manring.

Got in last Tuesday, and was staying with the wonderful Doug, Vida and Dani for the first couple of days – it’s great to come out here and immediately feel at home. It just serves to reinforce my dislike of hotels.

Two days with the Lunns, then off down to NAMM. NAMM, for those new to the game, is a HUGE music equipment trade fair. The connection with the music industry means there are a fair few lovely people around. The commercial side of it means there are also a lot of losers on the make there. I tend to view NAMM as an archepelego (spelling, harv?) of lovely people in a sea of turd. you just run from one booth of nice people to the next, hoping not get hijacked by some moron trying to sell MIDI leiderhosen or the keyboard the doubles as a trouser press for musicians on the move…

All in all, it was a fab experience – I played at and compered the BassQuake event on Thursday night, which was much fun – Dan Elliot, the BassQuake founder, does an amazing job of putting together a great show every year.

On the show floor, I did one short set a day each for Modulus and AccuGroove, and spent lots of time just milling around catching up with people I rarely get to see. Some great friends where there – Anderson from Modulus, Mark and David from AccuGroove, Peter Murray, Michael Manring, Doug Lunn (again), Warren from Fodera, Wally and Lady Bo, Carl at Lakland, Eric Roche, Steve and Jill Azola, Rick and Jessica Turner, Dave Swift, Muriel Anderson, Sarita Stewart, John East, John Fearrante, Otiel Burbridge, Jeff Campatelli, Bill Walker, Bob Amstadt, Lowell, Dude. etc. etc. etc. loads and loads of great people, many of whom I only get to see once a year. Eating is a sacrament at NAMM – for me, I break bread with the Subway people every day – a foot long veggie delight, being my element of choice. Getting to eat with friends at NAMM is great, time away from the convention centre. Friday it was with Doug, Vida, Dani and Vinnie, Saturday with Peter Murray, Lunch was with Bob Amstadt on Saturday, and Tal Wilkenfeld on Sunday (fantastic young bassist from Australia working in NYC – you’re going to be hearing much more from her, I guarantee it).

So NAMM was lots of fun once again, and by not writing for a mag this year, I had a lot more time for just hanging out and enjoying the show.

During NAMM I was staying with Bob (QSC Bob from all the bass forums) and Alison – great people, who made me very welcome. The best thing about travelling is the people. The worst is missing the small person and the cats, but emailing whenever possible, and the occasional snatched phone call is having to do for now…

Sunday night after NAMM, Doug Lunn and I headed off the the Knitting Factory in LA to see Kaki King play – Kaki’s a killer guitarist, produced by the wonderful David Torn. She’s from that post-Hedges school, with a few twists of her own, and a great line in on-stage patter. A killer gig.

Tuesday was the long drive north, up here to Santa Cruz, staying with Rick and Jessica Turner. Rick and I could be stuck in a room together for months and not run out of things to talk about. They are both two of the most interesting and marvellous people I know, so coming here is my Northern California home, in the way that staying with the Lunns is in SoCal.

which brings us up to last night’s gig, back at the Espresso Garden in San Jose with Michael Manring. playing with Michael is, as you know from my raving after the UK gigs, the most enjoyable and fullfilling musical enviroment i’ve ever found myself in, and last night was great. Thanks to everyone who turned out.

And now I’m off out for lunch with Rick Walker, another great friend and fab percussionist.

more later…

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