For the uninitiated, bassist and songwriter Mike Watt's unusual rock opera set at the Pour House must have been a strange challenge. Unpredictably dynamic, jerky, jarring, and, at times, incredibly tight, the intense set held almost everyone's close attention for a solid hour.
Watt and his current backing band the Missingmen headlined the venue for their first time on March 27 in support of their new album Hyphenated-Man. They played the entire 30-song collection, non-stop, front-to-back. I was there both as a longtime fan and as part of the supporting act, the Fairy God Muthas, alongside guitarist Doug Walters (count this write-up as a report rather than a critical review). It was a blast to see a decent crowd on hand on an off night — especially an audience comprised of old-school Minutemen and fIREHOSE fans who've been intrigued for years by Watt's percussive bass playing, growly singing style, and quirky songwriting.
Hyphenated-Man is Watt's first album since 2004. Some songs sound like punk/funk/rock tunes, stripped-down to the most basic arrangements possible ("Bird-In-The-Helmet-Man" and "Finger-Pointing-Man" could have worked on any fIREHOSE album). Other tracks are more like transitional sketches between songs — either furious little bursts of wild riffage and drums rolls ("Blowing-It-Out-Both-Ends-Man") or a lilt of whispered lyrics and super-quiet accompaniment ("Mouse-Headed-Man"). As parts of a longer piece, Watt and the guys probably didn't intend for any of these brief songs to stand alone as fully-arranged tradition rock hits or anything. Collectively, they propelled a nervously optimistic feeling and a personal theme drawn from bits of Watt's life experiences.
On stage, guitarist Tom Watson stood across from Watt at stage right, just over the shoulders of drummer Raul Morales, whose sparkly Ludwig kit was turned at an angle to face the bandleader. Watt plucked, thumped, and punched his signature Gibson SG bass, which took a licking but sounded great.
At certain moments during the set, Watt looked simultaneously exhausted and entranced, but most of the time, he pounded, stomped, and howled as usual. He seemed even more animated, cheerful, and genuinely appreciative of the crowd during the handful of Minutemen songs in the encore.
Old fans dug it. Newcomers gave it shot. I loved the whole thing.