Mike Watt And The Missingmen: Live at The Bell House, Brooklyn, 10-12-12 By Mike Faloon

Nov 20, 2012


I’m not much for celebrity worship. I get it from my dad. He traveled a lot when I was a kid. Once in awhile he’d see someone famous in an airport or hotel but he prided himself on never asking for an autograph. He noticed those people and he liked telling friends that he’d seen Roger Staubach at the Kansas City airport or Willie Stargell at a restaurant in Pittsburgh, but he didn’t approach them.

I’m pretty much the same way, but it’s different when it involves someone like Mike Watt—someone I admire. He played the Bell House in Brooklyn last month and I was pretty excited. I couldn’t get anyone to go with me, but I bought a ticket anyway. I almost brought my copy of 3-Way Tie for Last. It’s not the best Minutemen record but it’s the first one I heard, and it reset the way I thought about music. If it wasn’t the first cultural artifact to prove that there was life beyond what I’d seen on cable television, it certainly made the strongest impression.

The night of the Bell House show I got to Brooklyn early. I gave myself plenty of time to eat dinner. The plan virtually guaranteed me a good line of sight for the show but came with one flaw: what to do with the hour after eating before Watt And The Missingmen took the stage?

I was sorting through my options, standing a few feet from the stage between bands, when I noticed a dude to my left. Grey curly hair, flannel shirt. Mike Watt. I looked away, looked again, tried not to look once more, and then did anyway. Mike Watt. He’d changed my life, helped me realize there was a whole array of sounds beyond the classic and progressive rock I’d ingested throughout high school. Mike Watt was standing right there.

I kept my inner geek in check and moved to the side of the stage for the next band, Lite. Within a couple of minutes Mike Watt was standing right in front of me. He could have listened from backstage or watched from the side of the stage, but he opted to be out front. I tried to think of something to say but I couldn’t scale the wall of clichés stacked ever so high in my melon. Did he really need another bespectacled dude telling him how he’d changed said dude’s life?

One thing I find fascinating about Mike Watt is that he’s so willing to talk about his laurels, even revisit them—no one sells their own myth like Watt (and I say that with admiration)—but he demonstrates no interest in resting on them. Hyphenated Man, his most recent record, is one case in point. I took a chance when I bought the album. Much as I revered the Minutemen—and Watt’s subsequent band fIREHOSE—I’d never taken to his previous solo albums. But I dove in when I read that Hyphenated Man was inspired by the Minutemen’s magnum opus Double Nickels on the Dime. I even opted for the colored vinyl version. By the time shipping was included, I was in for twenty-seven dollars for one album. Those are numbers that don’t square in my world, but I’ve never regretted it.

Sonically, Hyphenated Man is in line with fIREHOSE, but structurally—thirty songs on one platter, most under ninety seconds—it’s akin to the best Minutemen. In the past two years it’s the record I’ve listened to the most. Though I can’t name the tunes—I always listen to it head to toe and never with the album sleeve in hand—I’ve internalized the rhythms, the stops and starts, and the accents.

The band, comprised of Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums (aka The Missingmen), really pushed the songs. I was shocked by how fast many of the tunes were. Initially I was resistant; I wasn’t ready to let go of the versions I knew, but I adapted. The faster tempos heightened the contrast with the slower tunes, which seemed even more subdued.

The best song from the album was “Pinned to the Table Man.” Early in the song the band dropped out and Watt sang/talked the lyrics. The beauty of the moment was shattered when a couple of dimwits—“yammers” in Watt spiel—were heard talking.

“…1957! He was born in 1957!”

I think everyone in the club heard them. Watt had a look on his face that said, “I hear ‘em too. Stick with me. They’ll come around or they won’t, but we—the rest of us—have a cool thing going.” Sure enough, by the time he came around to the “lessons never lessen” line again the yammers were silent.

The best part of watching the crowd was the joyful looks of reverence; so many people were so damn grateful to be there. It reminded me of the looks I’ve seen at jazz shows, like when Ornette Coleman did a cameo at Sonny Rollins’s eightieth birthday show. It’s a look that says, “I can’t believe I get to see this live.” More than once that night I heard someone yell, “Thank you, Mike Watt.”

And as much as I loved the Hyphenated Man set, the encore was even better. Watt And The Missing Men were joined by members of the previous band, Lite. It was an awesome spectacle. Lite’s drummer held his snare drum up to a mic and bashed away. Lite’s bassist shared a floor tom with Raul Morales, and one of their guitarists buzzed around the stage, trading riffs with Tom Watson. The expanded lineup tore through Blue Öyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black” and shredded the Minutemen’s “The Glory of Man.” (At least I think that’s the name of that tune. All these years soaking in that record and I still don’t know the song titles.) Hearing even 1/46 of Double Nickels on the Dime was amazing.

On the way out I overhead two dudes using another recent show to process the set we’d just experienced.

First dude: “Second time in two weeks an old guy has showed young guys how it’s done.”

Second dude: “As good as Foo Fighters were—as good as Foo Fighters were! Neil Young doesn’t give a fuck!”

I think Mike Watt had a related message in mind when, at the end of the regular set, he held up his bass and bellowed, “Start your own band!”