Concert Review: Mike Watt (Two Shows)

Mike Watt, Six Finger Satellite
Bogie’s (Albany, New York), October 8, 1995

Mike Watt’s solo album Ball Hog or Tug Boat? was a celebrity filled affair that clearly illustrated how many of today’s stars are indebted to Watt for his seminal work with the Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Watt has now restored his working-class slob rock ethic with a touring band including non-celebrity guitarist Nels Cline and drummers Mike Preussner and Vince Meghrouni. Last Sunday at Bogie’s this low-rent foursome blew Ball Hog (and all the guest instrumentalists mustered for its recording) out of the water with a roaring evening of lumbering rock and roll fun. (Ball Hog‘s guest vocalists probably should have stuck around, as listening to Watt sing is akin to listening to Keith Richards’ voice being played at 16 rpm. But who can quibble over homely singing from such an affable singer?)

Watt began his show in proper prole fashion by lugging his bass case on stage and plugging in and powering up all by his lonesome with nary a tuning tech in sight. Then (joy!) it was time for heavy wondrous bass magic — for nearly two hours Watt pounded his instrument with clenched meat mallets and/or deftly enacted the Sacred Dance of the Palsied Sausages with his broad workman-like hands. The two drummers and Watt created a vast polyrhythmic bottom over which Cline worked his iconoclastic guitar digressions, which included fun techniques like using a kitchen whisk in lieu of a pick. Do not try this at home.

Song selection was exemplary, with highlights from the fIREHOSE and Minutemen catalogs supplementing the best originals from Ball Hog and covers like Sonic Youth’s “Tuff Gnarl”, Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black”, and Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.” Watt honored his past by dedicating “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” to late Minuteman guitarist D. Boon, and his present by dedicating the self-deprecatory “One Reporter’s Opinion” to his wife and erstwhile Black Flag bassist, Kira Roessler. Watt’s between song banter showed why he remains the Populist Bassist, as he urged the crowd: “Don’t believe the hype, believe the bass” and “Go start your own bands!” It was inspiring to these cynical old ears to hear Watt singing “The kids of today must protect themselves against the seventies…” to the very young crowd at this all ages show. Hey Kids! Listen to Watt!

Six Finger Satellite’s opening set was equally riveting; a lesser artist than Watt would not want to have to follow these guys every night. The black-clad foursome sounded something like Henry Rollins fronting 1976-era Devo, or maybe a bit like Suicide joining the Butthole Surfers for an encore, and even perhaps like Chrome had Chrome possessed any musical talent. In summary: loud, mean, fast, scary. Drummer Rick Pelletier was an astonishing ghostly pale blur pounding out the incredible prestissimo rhythms that drove the Satellites’ frappe of detuned guitar, anachronistic synthesizer squall, and howled digitally-delayed vocals. Singer Mister J. Ryan had molto stage presence as he hollered and glowered enough for three men, freeing bassist James Apt and guitarist/keyboardist John MacLean to ply their fare without the distraction of having to pull “moves” for the crowd. Six Finger Satellite have released two albums and several EP’s on Sub Pop Records. Find them. Buy them. This challenging ensemble deserves your support.

Mike Watt and the Pair of Pliers, Cobra Verde
Valentine’s (Albany, New York), October 13, 2000

Last time I saw Mike Watt was in late 1995 when he was touring behind his solo debut album, Ball Hog or Tugboat? I was struck at the time by the sense of massive physical presence that the former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist exuded: he was a big man, with big hands, making big noises on a big bass guitar, shouting some big bass vocals over such big songs as Ball Hog‘s “Big Train.” Just big all over, man, if you know what I mean or where I’m coming from: Watt was just big. Or at least he was until nine months ago, when a life-threatening infection of the perineum knocked 130 pounds off of his frame and took the bass out of his meat-mitts for an extended period — the first such layoff he had endured since picking up his four-string axe a quarter century earlier as a teenager in San Pedro, California.

So when Watt and his bandmates (drummer Vince Meghrouni from the Ball Hog tour and new guitarist Tom Watson) took the stage Friday night at Valentine’s, there was a palpable sense of anticipation and (maybe) just a tinge of trepidation about how the hiatus might have modified the man — since Watt was visibly smaller, older and more frail looking than he’d been on the last go round. But Watt’s smaller stature just meant that his hands looked all that much bigger by comparison — and there was no denying the big, big sounds that he beat out of his bass over the course of a big, 90-minute (including encore) set that even included another big romp through “Big Train.”

Not to mention such equally fabulous Ball Hog cuts as “Drove from Pedro” and “E-Ticket Ride” (which found Watson jumping to drums and Meghrouni handling vocals and tenor sax). Nor such stalwart jazz-punk bombs from the Minutemen era as “One Reporter’s Opinion,” “Little Man With the Gun in His Hand” and “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost,” all of which served to remind me (and many others, I’d dare to speculate), once again, just how incredibly fabulous, forward-looking and ferocious Watt’s first act had been, prior to guitarist D. Boon’s own brush with death–which (unlike Watt’s) ended up with a “win” in the Grim Reaper’s column instead.

Watt and friends also showed phenomenal skill as interpretive artists, covering–no, make that reinventing–Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel,” the Stooges’ “T.V. Eye,” John Cale’s “Fear,” the Urinals’ “Ack Ack Ack” and Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black,” while also spinning off a sequence of free-noise jams that would have made both Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers blush at the sheer audacity of the attack unfolding before them — while also filling those bands with shame for their own shortcomings. But hey, Watt and his Pliers woulda shamed anyone with the set they delivered Friday night, which left me not only reeling, but convinced that I’d seen the most talented, powerful rock trio to tread a stage since, oh, maybe King Crimson’s Red line-up of 1974. Or, hell, maybe ever. It was that big.

Cobra Verde opened with an interesting set that merged Stooges-Dolls thug rock with some nifty (Pere) Ubu-esque synth and theremin doodles. Given that Ubu and the Cobras both hail from Cleveland, I’m thinking that there must be something in the water there that makes people want to make noises like that. I’m also thinking that I might want to have a bottle of the stuff shipped my way accordingly.

More on clocks

If 10:10 and (less often) 2:50 are the weird times of reality derailment in an analog clock world, then I’m convinced that 1:01 is the comparable weird time in digital clock world. I don’t like waking up in the middle of the night and looking at a digital clock and seeing it say 1:01. The zero always looks like an eye. Brr.

Clocks

Y’know how in advertisements, all non-digital clocks or watches are set for 10:10 or (less often) 2:50? So that you get the hands open, pointing up, inviting, waiting for your money (or whatever the advertisement is trying to suck out of you) to drop lovingly into that clock-face cusp? And knowing that, does it ever weird you out to look at a clock in real life and see that it’s 10:10 or (less often) 2:50, and then to ponder what you’re life is advertising, and who or what is looking at you while it does it? You don’t? Oh. Well. Never mind then.

Concert Review: Soulfly (Saratoga Winners, Cohoes, New York, October 18, 2000)

Massimiliano “Max” Cavalera spent a full 15 years delivering the good word about evil music with Brazilian underground legends Sepultura, leading some astute scene observers to dub the singer-guitarist “The Bob Marley of Metal” in honor of his third world roots and populist appeal with the people. Pretty high praise, and a pretty tough row for Cavalera to continuing hoeing alone since walking out on Sepultura in 1996 — leaving his own brother (drummer Igor Cavalera) behind in the process.

Sibling Max didn’t escape from Belo Horizonte’s slums by being a dummy, though, and he surrounded himself with a bracing collective of modern metal musicians, some known, some unknown, all delivering the goods as they needed to be delivered on his new group’s eponymous debut album, Soulfly — which finally found him moving beyond stock death metal concerns for good, mining instead some topical lyrical turf worthy of all those old Marley comparisons.

Soulfly’s second record, Primitive, embraced those Marley references even more warmly, dressed as it was in a colorful cover by artist Neville Garrick — the genius beyond the Wailers’ always-distinctive ’70s record sleeves. The record also featured yet another star-go-round, as members of Slipknot, the Deftones, Slayer and even Sean Lennon stopped by the studio to throw down with Cavalera and company on another set of happenin’ world-metal tunes.

But the studio’s the studio, and a concert hall’s a concert hall — and the former can hide or enhance a lot of things that pop up or disappear in the latter, particularly when the famous folks don’t go out on the road with the not-so-famous folks. But based on the Soulfly show last Wednesday at the reborn Saratoga Winners, Max Cavalera’s taken care of that account and expectation just as well as he’s taken care of all the others in his post-Sepultura career: with aplomb.

Backed by former Snot guitarist Mikey Doling and the rumbling rhythm section of bassist Marcello Dias and drummer Joe Nunez, Cavalera ripped through a collection of downright primal tunes that flavored metal riffmongery with a hint of Brazilian drum band stomp and a whiff of the sorts of soul that’s generally never spotted within a mile of a concert as loud as this one. And while most metal performers can arguably claim intensity as a calling card component of their live performances, few can actually claim to tap their music — or themselves — deeply enough to reach the point where that intensity actually becomes passion, and that passion then allows them to transcend the concert hall, the sound system, even the songs themselves, taking their audience to a place where something as superficially stoopid as spiritually uplifting death metal makes sense, somehow, somewhere.

Max Cavalera and friends got to that place on Wednesday — and they were nice enough to take the gathered Soulfly Tribe with them when they went. Even Bob Marley would have been impressed.

John Smith

Since my given name is “John E. Smith,” I’ve spent most of my life hearing various and sundry Pocahantas or John Q. Public jokes, none of which are amusing, all of which are even less funny after you’ve heard them a couple of hundred times over the years. And when I try to check into a hotel? Sheesh . . . I can’t do it without getting “Oh, I see, Mr. Smith, hmm? Mr. John Smith, yes?? Bit obvious on the alibi, aren’t we?? Ha ha hah. Oh, and this lovely lady must be Mrs. Smith, of course, yes? [leer and wink]. Oh, yes, we have a room for you right here, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Would the hourly rate be best for you this evening?” So the next time you encounter me, or the next time you encounter one of the world’s other unfortunate John Smiths, please refrain from making light of our names. We’ve heard it all before.

Quote of the Day

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a hymn to the integral innocence of the human spirit meeting the bacon slicer of a corruptive society; a forerunner to the ‘street music’ of the late ’70s and far better crafted. That’s why the legend of the piece grows stronger through the years while much rival material has gone swiftly to the dumper. Maybe Genesis offered insights into a different kind of hopelessness, a more internalized condition, from that endured by today’s largely unemployed young; but it was and is only a difference in kind.” (Tony Stratton-Smith, 1982)(And damn right on the money he was).