Friday Night: Mike Watt Plays the Grizzled Natural at Bottom of the Hill
Mike Watt at Bottom of the Hill Friday night.
April 29, 2011
@ Bottom of the Hill
Better than: Listening to the words without the face.
If such a thing were possible, I'd believe, without hyperbole or winking wit, that Mike Watt was born to play the bass. His fingers fly across the fretboard so smoothly, it's appears he isn't touching strings at all. Curved elegantly, his bulbous palms encircle the bass neck in an endless handshake.
Legs firmly planted on the Bottom of the Hill stage during his sold-out show last Friday, Watt picked up his trusty bass, the one he was made to play, and ripped through more than two dozen minute-and-a-half ADD prog-punk tracks, mostly off of his epic new album Hyphenated-Man, on which every track is "man": "Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man," "Own-Horn-Blowing-Man," and so forth.
Watt played alongside his exceptionally talented Missingmen, guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales. The trio rocked in unison, like live poetry. During particularly heavy moments, they leaned in toward each other, all three near an imaginary axis in the middle of the stage. For his part, Watt glided over the bass and made a variety of theatrical facial expressions, like bored-child-with-tongue-out-of-mouth and tough, hollering man. He is a grizzled, consummate performer who has seen much in between his punk-rock beginnings with D. Boon and the Minutemen in San Pedro, Calif., and his time touring with Iggy Pop and the Stooges this past decade.
Anyone who has seen the excellent Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo will recognize Watt's tender quirks, his charm and awkwardness. It all comes through when he's holding the bass as well.
After the first half of the set, the trio made with the fake-out goodbye and huddled behind Watt's amp, presumably to discuss foreign affairs. After a good five minutes they returned, this time with increased vigor and harder-hitting Minutemen songs. Watt sat out these vocals, instead standing inches from Morales and making oddball googly-eyed faces.
Watt then invited Steve Mackay, of Stooges fame, on stage to play tenor saxophone during the last few songs. The crowd -- mostly middle-aged white dudes of healthy workingman stock, myself excluded -- had been nodding approvingly during most of the set. Once this second act came out a few took it upon themselves to rile the crowd, pogo-ing straight up and down, one hairy fist pumping in the air.
After a few sparse words addressing the audience, Watt bellowed, "Coltrane, Coltrane, Coltrane" -- dramatic pause -- "STOOGES." With that he shrugged a modest and smiley audience thank you, unplugged, and began packing up his gear. It was back to the van for the man with the bass in his hand. Just one last gig till he's back in his beloved Pedro.
Personal bias: I still have a "The Man in the Van with a Bass in his Hand" sticker Watt silently handed to me at a bar in Long Beach six years ago.
Random detail: Ever the well-dressed man-child, Watt wore orange sherbet-colored Converse.
By the way: We Jam Econo is on Netflix. You should really watch it. Now.