fIREHOSE Crescent Ballroom Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I entered the Crescent Ballroom with a mix of anticipation and apprehension in my gut. Soon to be on stage was fIREHOSE, a band I frequented in the 1990s and despite guitarist Ed Crawford's recent interview claims that "we're not going get up there and embarrass ourselves," I could only hope that would be the case.
Opening with "Brave Captain" and whipping up a frenzy with "Chemical Wire," it was clear the band had indeed prepared mightily for this reformation tour. In fact, the entire 16-song set was spot-on, tight, syncopated and chock-full of original intensity.
If anything, fIREHOSE was too good. Back in the day, there was a rough-and-tumble feeling and attitude within the band and every performance, from the make-it-up-as-we go stage ethic and DIY attitude to selling homemade T-shirts off the stage. Now, 18 years later, this trio has more than mastered their instruments and overall musicianship to the point that it didn't take away from the performance, but the raw edge was absent.
But, really, isn't that is to be expected and accepted? What remained the same from the band's '90s heyday was a devotion to each and every song during the set: Mike Watt's bass was deep down and thunderous, Crawford's singing a little shaky at times, but he was certainly going for it every moment, and drummer George Hurley thrashed in happy 4/4 time. The band never let up as it continued through "Choose Any Memory," "Sometimes" and the more recognizable "hit" "Honey Please." Each song was a high-energy explosion, with Crawford belting out the vocals in vintage form. The tempo dropped only slightly as Watt -- who also plays with the reformed Stooges, composes rock operas, and has released a handful of solo albums -- rolled through the beat poet jazz vibe of "Makin' the Freeway." This pattern was typical of the night as Crawford fronted a few tunes before Watt's mellow baritone gave everyone a breather.
Not that the crowd needed it. Many in attendance were there early for headliner M. Ward and watched casually from the wings. Did they realize the historical occasion they were witnessing? If so, they weren't inspired enough to doing any moshing, even with the kinetic energy coming off the stage. (The faithful, though, did a good bit of head-bobbing.) Credit must be given, however, to one guy in a green T-shirt who tried and tried to get the crowd moshing, alas, to no avail.
As the band worked through a mix of punk, rock, free jazz, and funk, a few other songs received extra crowd recognition, such as "Down with The Bass," "Blaze" and "Toolin'," as the band failed to act its age. Both Watt and Hurley -- who was simply fantastic all night with amazing speed and power -- now sport gray manes but offered no signs of (thankfully) slowing down anytime soon. That's not to imply that punk rock is for young artists only -- it's really all about attitude and desire -- but young bands should take notice that this is how it's done, and done right. With fIREHOSE, it always was about the music backed up by the performance and professionalism that comes with the responsibility of being on stage. Of course, that never meant the music couldn't repeatedly kick ass -- as it did on this night in the Crescent.
Capping off a killer set with "Powerful Hankerin'" the band erased any doubts about their past -- and raised hopes for the future as well.
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Last Night: Vintage punk band fIREHOSE
Personal bias: Never missed them in the 1990s, can't miss them now. The crowd: Some old punks, some new punks, and plenty of M. Ward fans who might not have realized the significance of who they were seeing. Random notebook dump: No flannel, but Watt's got his sleeves rolled up in that workingman's style, just like the old days. Overheard: "Mike Fuckin' Watt. Holy shit, I'm watching Mike Watt kill that bass."