Mike Watt + The Missingmen Give a Punk Rock History Lesson

Mike Watt: "Start your own band!"EXPAND
Mike Watt: "Start your own band!"
Courtesy of Gregory Taylor

The answer to your question: Yes, Mike Watt and his new band, The Missingmen, reached back nearly 30 years to pull out of the musical vault a play a handful of songs by Minutemen, the band that secured Watt's legend as one of the best bass players in punk rock.

It was a nostalgic night for the graying punk rock geeks in the crowd of 150 or so at the Rhythm Room on Thursday night. Because the 52-year-old icon and iconoclast, along with guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales, delivered a breathless hour-long tour of the music that changed his life, including classic songs by Urinals, Television, Wire, The Stooges, and, of course, Minutemen.

Shows like this can be dicey. The only reason you go is because of the name of the legend, not because you know any of the music created by the legend in the past 10 years. This particular legend made his best music between 1980 and 1985 with Minutemen (a band criminally cut short in 1985 with the death of guitarist d. boon in a car accident in the Arizona desert), made some respectable, but ultimately forgettable, music with fIREHOSE (kind of a Minutemen Lite), and eventually became more famous for the artists he influenced (Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, J Mascis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, countless others), his "jam econo" ethos, and his most-recent job as the bassist in the re-formed Stooges than for the original music he's created in the past two decades.

So, it was a relief that the legend and his band (together for five years but with no recorded and released output) used the occasion not to play an hour of music no one's heard but, instead, to work up a substantial sweat playing a bunch of songs that informed the legend. It sounded like old friends -- unrehearsed but talented and intuitive enough to make it not matter -- getting together in a basement to rip through a bunch of cool old songs. 

After opening with an understated, Bo Diddley-fied take on The Stooges' "Little Doll," Watt and band indulged themselves with a couple of Blue Öyster Cult-inspired Missingmen originals before blasting through a half-dozen Minutemen classics -- including "Anxious Mo-Fo," "One Reporter's Opinion," "Toadies," and "Glory of Man" -- with Watson admirably carrying out the d.boon vocal and guitar parts, a killer one-two punch of Wire's "Three-Girl Rhumba" and "Ex-Lion Tamer," and the highlight of the evening, a desperate version of "Funhouse," the song by Watt's current employer, The Stooges. (Watt had a picture of the late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton taped to his low-slung bass.)

The Missingmen ended the night by turning The Urinals' lo-fi instrumental "Surfin' with the Shah" into a free-jazz blowout and knocking out a rickety rendition of Television's "Little Johnny Jewel." Watt signed off by admonishing the crowd, "Start your own band!" It surely wasn't the first time he's shouted the mantra, but even at 52, he still sounds like he means it.

Critic's notebook:

Last night: Mike Watt + the Missingmen at the Rhythm Room.

Better Than: Seeing fIREHOSE as a college student in 1990.

Personal Bias: With increasing frequency, the old goats of rock continue to impress more than acts two generations younger.

Random Detail: Watt gave a shout-out to his former SST labelmate Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets. Watt told the crowd that he was going to crash at Kirkwood's house after the show. He also thanked each member of the two opening bands (Japan's Lite and Tucson's Shark Pants) by name.

Further Listening: Minutemen's The Punch Line (1981) and, of course, Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

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