Monday, October 22, 2012

Mike Watt: Club-Cafe Man

I spent most of today writing a few reviews for JazzTimes. Speaking of published stuff, my Laetitia Sadier piece is up on the Blurt website right here. I was about to type "I don't have anything coming up," but I just realized I do. I actually have two things coming up that I need to get cracking on.

But before I do that, let me tell you about Mike Watt. Specifically, Mike Watt at Club Cafe on Saturday night. Two tours ago he played there and I missed it, in part because I was still turned off by his previous album The Secondman's Middle Stand. I had seen a tour of that band and album a few years prior and it was okay live, but once was enough. But after last year's show at Brillobox, I felt like the old bass man was back on his horse and I didn't feel like missing this one.

South Side has become a haven of drunken idiots and that means it's hard to park then and when you're walking five blocks to Club Cafe, you're likely to hear couples fighting in the street, which I did. Getting the Club Cafe, the timing worked in my favor because the opening band was wrapping up their set, which was a sincere but fairly generic set of pop punk.

FOOD, the trio fronted by the former Ed fROMOHIO (Crawford, that is) was up second. I lucked out and got a table with a crew of friends that I've known since the Minutemen days, including my friend Lee, who just moved back to Pittsburgh from San Francisco. Buck, from the Love Letters, showed up a little bit after I got there. Turns out, we were right in the firing line of Crawford's guitar, which was good and loud.

The funny thing about FOOD is that the other two guys in the band are Pittsburgh music veterans. Mike Quinlan played drums in Da Shunts with Evan Knauer (who was sitting with me). Mark Urbano played guitar with bands like White Wreckage and Six Gun Jury. He and I both played together when I was about 17 and hanging out with Mark's buddy's roommate Steve. So we go way back. As an aside, they played at Gooski's on my birthday a couple weeks ago, and it was rather touching hearing some favorite fIREHOSE songs played by a band of friends that I had known as long as those songs.

Back to Club Cafe........... the band was pretty tight. Urbano is a solid bass player, always delivers, nothin' fancy but right on the money. Quinlan is tight too. Ed was pealing off power chords and twang. He seemed a little nervous when doing the between-song chatter but no need to worry. The 12" edition of their EP is staring at me from across the room. I need to play it as soon as I'm done typing.

A Love Supreme began playing over the p.a. after FOOD was done, which is the cue that Watt is on the way. He's played John Coltrane as warm-up music ever since the Minutemen days. Drummer Raul Morales and guitarist Tom Watson started setting up the equipment in that tight Watt-style that I had forgotten about: drums center stage, turned to the right, facing Watt; Watson behind the drum kit.

It almost seemed like on cue that Watt made it to the stage during the final section of A Love Supreme since that's the triumphant part. He looked like he had just rolled out of bed, which might have been the case. Even so, he tore into his bass like a demon, like he was wide awake. Again, our table was mere feet from him so we saw everything up close. (I recalled after a few minutes that I could barely see him at Brillobox because it had been so crowded so this was a nice change.) They played the hyphenated-man album from start to finish, stopping only to chastise the loud talkers in the crowd during the quiet sections.

After they were done, Watt thanked the audience "for letting us do that to you," meaning playing one 45-minute song (actually 30 songs that are under two minutes). I suppose if you didn't know the album, it would have been pretty brutal. And there are still lyrical subtleties that I'm missing but it was a lot of fun. The encores weren't as bountiful this time and there were no Minutemen tunes sung by Watson. But, of course, it wouldn't be a Mike Watt show without a breakneck take on "The Red and the Black," and Ed made it back up to the stage and strapped on his guitar by the second verse and was there dueling with Watson during the solos.

Afterwards, while Watt was selling merchandise from the stage to overly eager fans who were probably still in training pants when I saw the Minutemen at the Electric Banana, Evan was puzzling over the Captain Beefheart guitarist that Watson was reminding him of. After running through a series Magic Band names, I hit on the one that I should've said first: Zoot Horn Rollo. That was it. And I told Evan it would probably make Watson's night if he heard that.

I was right. I went up and said hi to him too. He didn't remember meeting me a handful of times, but he DID remember the year that his great band Slovenly played the Banana with fIREHOSE (1987). I wasn't offended that he didn't remember me. There are a lot of guys like me on the road. Watt was busy so I decided to skip a greeting and head home.

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