Meat Puppets and mike watt + the jom & terry show

Meat Puppets and mike watt + the jom & terry show

Grant Hart (of Husker Du)

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

This event is 21 and over

Meat Puppets
Meat Puppets
Dusty Notes

At their induction into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2017, the Meat Puppets, one of the most compelling, original and enduring bands in rock history, managed to both honor their story and introduce its next chapter.

On that night in August, at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, founding members Curt Kirkwood, on vocals and guitar; his brother Cris Kirkwood, on bass and vocals; and Derrick Bostrom, on drums, joined together onstage for the first time in over two decades. Throughout a set that included era-defining songs like “Lake of Fire,” “Plateau” and “Backwater,” the chemistry was more than promising, as Bostrom isn’t shy to point out. “It was so intense that even I couldn’t deny it!” he recalled recently. “It was just like, now I remember why we did this. It was magical.”

The white-hot enthusiasm he felt at that awards ceremony in Phoenix hasn’t waned. That rekindling has resulted in Dusty Notes, the band’s new Megaforce release and the first Meat Puppets studio album Bostrom has participated in since 1995’s No Joke! “This is a classic situation where the project took us over and we way exceeded our expectations,” he said of Dusty Notes, going on to call it the “best record we’ve ever done.”

Veteran Meatheads might scoff. After all, what could possibly top the warped, punk-infused country-rock of Meat Puppets II, the funky, jammy psychedelia of Up on the Sun or the hook-filled hard rock of Too High to Die? But Bostrom—and Dusty Notes—should be heard out. Since the band debuted in the early ’80s, Curt Kirkwood has continually proven himself to be among the most brilliant songwriters of his generation. Time after time, album after album, he’s demonstrated an extraordinary ability to draw upon various roots and rock styles en route to a unique new vision of what the Meat Puppets can be. His latest contributions, especially songs such as “Warranty,” “On,” “Nine Pins,” “Outflow” and the title track, evoke only the finest work by the finest American songwriters. Without credits on hand, you might take Dusty Notes for a covers collection that excavates forgotten gems from Nashville, Bakersfield and Laurel Canyon.

But with the exception of a reverent cover of the country standard “Sea of Heartbreak,” Dusty Notes is solely a testament to Kirkwood’s wise songcraft—and to the state-of-the-art Meat Puppets lineup that makes his new songs so vital. In addition to the newly reformed founding trio, the album features keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, a jazz-trained virtuoso adept at any style, and Curt Kirkwood’s son Elmo, whose old-school rock-guitar grit ideally complements his father’s spacier explorations. Intuitive, inspired and overflowing with genuine musicianship, it’s the sort of band that can transform what Curt describes as “simple yet engaging” songs into maiden voyages each night on the road. “I can ignore my vocal and listen to the other four guys play,” Kirkwood said, chuckling. “They’re all so good.”

Or as Bostrom put it, “Curt really wanted to do something that he could enjoy playing and the band could really sink their teeth into. This doesn’t feel like an oldies act; it feels like the culmination.”

For the Meat Puppets, the backstory that led to that peak reads like a kind of Great American Rock Novel. It begins with kids, enamored of music and immersed in the psychedelic drug culture of Arizona in the ’70s, who find their way to punk rock, painstakingly become one of the most important bands of the American underground and go on to achieve mainstream rock stardom. A hiatus and resurrection follow, as Kirkwood doggedly furthers the Meat Puppets’ legacy—first on his own, and then alongside his brother, who’d conquered profound personal demons.

Stepping outside the band again, Bostrom can only marvel at the brothers’ tenacity. “The Meat Puppets have just been a really, really deep font of creativity,” he said. “Love it or hate it, hit or miss, Curt is just prodigious. When I got to know these guys again, I realized that they are still living the rock lifestyle; they’re not doing it by half measures. They stayed on the road. These guys are uncompromising. I consider the Meat Puppets to be a national treasure.”

***

The Meat Puppets’ story begins with idle time spent in the wide-open spaces of the Phoenix area during the early 1980s. Friendly high school acquaintances, Bostrom and Curt Kirkwood were in the dawn of their twenties, unemployed and “starting to hang out because we were the only guys home,” the drummer recalled with a laugh. “Cris was going to school at the time, so we would lay around waiting for him to get out, and then he would join us as a trio. We began to make such a hellacious racket that we knew we were on to something.”

The collective influences in play ran the gamut—classic rock, British prog, the Dead, Zappa, Beefheart, fusion, the jazz avant-garde and, of course, punk rock, which had enjoyed a tightknit but robust scene in Phoenix since the mid-to-late ’70s. But the fascinating take on hardcore that can be heard on Meat Puppets, the band’s 1982 SST debut, had more to do with punk rock’s ethos of creative freedom (and Arizona’s psychedelic history) than with any calculated musical strategy. “Curt was trying to play in straight bands and getting kicked out,” Bostrom recalled. “I told him, ‘No—in this day and age you can be anything you need to be, and this band is going to support your weirdness.”

Throughout the ’80s, the Meat Puppets found a crucial advocate in SST. Founded by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, the trailblazing indie label emboldened the trio to follow their whims from one artistically brazen record to the next, and spearheaded a national touring network that gave them hard-earned exposure. Still, the hardcore kids devoted to the likes of Flag didn’t always take kindly to three longhairs whose punk was infused with Neil Young. “I got spit on so much,” Curt said. “I would get spit in my open eyeball and come offstage with loogies dripping off the guitar. It was hideous.”

But the band persevered, and by the late ’80s a dependable legion of Meatheads had accrued. “It was the attrition of the naysayers going away,” Curt recalled, “and not bothering to come and waste their money and waste our time.” But the same nonstop cycle of touring and recording that allowed the band to gather their following was also threatening to burn it out. “We were trying to do this to make a living,” Bostrom said, “so we were definitely interested in new opportunities.”

Major labels had begun to pluck the best of what was then called college rock, but the Meat Puppets weren’t the easiest sell. “We were not punk enough, and we were too punk,” Bostrom said. Eventually a deal was struck with London, and the Meat Puppets’ second album for the label, Too High to Die, became a gold record with a breakout single, “Backwater.”

During the fall prior to that album’s January ’94 release, essential groundwork was laid. Nirvana, touring in support of In Utero, asked the band to open some shows in October. A couple of nights into the stint, Kurt Cobain told Kirkwood that Nirvana was taping an MTV Unplugged soon, and that he needed the brothers to guest at the performance in New York. “He said he couldn’t play the guitar parts,” Kirkwood said with a chuckle. And so “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau,” two of Cobain’s favorite tunes off of one of his favorite albums, Meat Puppets II, became staples of MTV when the network was still a taste-making behemoth. As Kirkwood saw it, his songs were being interpreted by a once-in-a-generation talent. “That’s a special voice,” he said. “That’s like a George Jones voice, somebody that’s immediately recognizable. A Neil Young voice.” A quarter-century later, the Nirvana association continues to be a catalyst for fandom. “It’s been the most constant vein that draws people in,” Kirkwood said.

Despite such achievement, the Meat Puppets hit a wall not much later. No Joke!, the follow-up to Too High, was strong, but lightning didn’t strike twice. The majors were quickly losing interest in the indie scene they’d been exploiting, Cris’ drug use had become a dire problem, and Bostrom was at a crossroads. “I needed to get a life,” he said. “I’d been on the road for 15 years.” Post-Nirvana sales and royalties had given everyone some savings, so we could afford to part ways.

Kirkwood and Bostrom remained on good terms. A computer enthusiast who built a thriving career in information technology, Bostrom became the band’s webmaster and oversaw their ambitious Rykodisc reissue campaign in 1999. By the time Kirkwood assembled a new Meat Puppets lineup for 2000’s Golden Lies, Bostrom was happily settled into his work and family life. Cris, once again happy and healthy, and Curt reunited for 2007’s Rise to Your Knees and three well-received subsequent albums. The Meat Puppets continued to grow and impress as a live act, though the set lists mostly acknowledged albums such as Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, which had long been recognized as landmarks of alternative music.

Meatheads should go ahead and add Dusty Notes to the canon, on record and onstage. “When we had it pretty much done,” Curt Kirkwood recalled, “Derrick said, ‘You know what people are gonna do after they listen to this? Listen to it again.’”
mike watt + the jom & terry show
mike watt + the jom & terry show
"What can be romantic to Mike Watt?"

This question is from the song "One Reporter's Opinion." It first appeared on "Double Nickels on the Dime," the Minutemen's acclaimed 1984, 45-track, two record release; often named among the best and most influential albums of the 1980's. At the time of the song's recording, this query may have seemed rhetorical, as the band was an integral part of Los Angeles's explosive early punk and hardcore scene. By 1984, The Minutemen - - Mike Watt on bass, guitarist D Boon and drummer George Hurley - - had already earned a reputation for fierce, rapid-fire performances. Their songs were abrupt gusts of genre-bending music, with concise, satirical lyrics that probed and skewered topics like Reagan era politics and commercial popular culture.

Yet nearly 30 years later, this question continues to haunt Watt, although it's long been freed of any presumed irony. In the intervening years, it has become increasingly evident that much of this bass player, songwriter and "spieler's" life is in fact very romantic to Mike Watt.

His passions are observable in everything. It's heard in Watt's musical signature - an extraordinarily lyrical bass playing style - a singular sound that leaps from any of his many recordings. It's visible in his mystical veneration of the natural world, revealed by equally allusive photos of seagulls, sea lions and sunrises taken during his daily "crack of dawn" biking and kayaking excursions in San Pedro, California, his beloved hometown. (Some of these exquisite images were the subject of a 2010 solo exhibition, "Eye-Gifts From Pedro" at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, CA., and are part of his book, "On and Off Bass," Three Rooms Press, 2012). His romance extends to the ordinary, too, observable in the way he describes his state of mind, meals, gigs, friends and daily activities in his compulsively detailed tour diaries available on-line since 1997 (before the term "blog" was coined), on his self-built and meticulously maintained website: hootpage.com, which he launched in 1996.

Watt is a cultural omnivore. Especially over the last decade, his openness (and eagerness) to devour new musical experience has become increasingly audible (and visible) in the dozens of projects and live performances he's participated in with artists as divergent as Yoko Ono, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Petra Haden and Kelly Clarkson.

With the songwriting and recording process freed from terra firma through digital technology and internet file sharing, Watt's been able to contribute bass to recordings by friends and fans from all over the world, who have contacted him through email and social media. He's also sought the partnership of musicians he's encountered on his own: through his (since 2001) web-based radio series "The Watt from Pedro Show," or met on tour, particularly since 2003 when he began playing bass with the perpetually globetrotting Iggy and the Stooges. These opportunities have yielded several ongoing collaborations, including multiple recordings with members of the Japanese band Migu and England's The Go! Team. To accommodate this explosion of creativity, in 2011 Watt launched a new label, clenchedwrench (www.clenchedwrench.com), his first DIY imprint in almost three decades. Its first release was "Hyphenated Man," the third of his "operas," in March 2011. The label has since released "Dos y Dos," the 4th (Mike Watt and Kira Roessler) Dos album (2011) and "Speilgusher" (2012) with poet, rock critic and Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Meltzer. "La Busta Gialla" by Il Sogno del Mariano, a trio pairing Watt with Italian musicians Stefano Pilia on guitar, and Andrea Belfi on drums, and several more collaborative recordings are scheduled for release in 2012.

History is ultimately a revisionist art form. Biography, too, is less ambiguous and more subjective in the rearview mirror. Glancing backward, it might appear obvious now how Watt has grown as a musician and as a man. His legendary big heart, acute intelligence and irrepressible curiosity, combined with his strong work ethic and a much-admired artistic authenticity have secured his reputation. He is one of the most well respected musicians of the last three decades. He's also one of the most dearly loved.

In person, Watt is a man of sharp contrasts, frequently veering from extremely silent and shy to bearishly loud and argumentative. However, despite his penchant for debate and in his own words "an unfortunate personality," most anyone who has ever encountered him remembers him fondly. His renown as a sweet guy follows him everywhere.

Admittedly, too, Watt has always had a hankering for mysteries, especially those that remain unsolved. He also likes the principle that for everything revealed something else is concealed. For those reasons, it's not surprising that although one is often initially met by Watt's outsized enthusiasm for music, books, nature and people, it barely masks an underlying sense of sadness and loss. So in considering this self-mining, however symbolic, mostly autobiographical artist, the answer to the question "Who is the man behind the curtain?" seems to get both more vivid and more elusive with time.

Watt's father was an18 year-old enlisted man from Red Bluff, CA, who had deep roots and family secrets in Arkansas and his mother was a 21 year-old aspiring visual artist, from an immigrant Italian family who had moved years earlier to Peoria, Illinois, from a Wyoming mining town, when there was nothing left to mine. Some of his maternal ancestors had been involved in vaudeville. His parents met in Chicago, where he was also conceived.

The event of his birth might now seem like an omen: Watt was literally ripped from his mother's belly via C-Section at 4:30AM, Friday, December 20, 1957, on a naval base in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Watt's family moved as frequently as the Navy ordered which was often annually, before settling in San Pedro, CA, the harbor of Los Angeles, in 1967. Rather, his mother settled there - refusing to move her family again - now including Mike and two younger sisters. His parents divorced when he was 12, and without his father, they moved from the relative security and integrated community of the local navel base to a public housing complex across town.

As if in a modern fable, one day in 1971, a 13 year-old Watt was walking through a local Pedro park when another adolescent jumped on him from a tree, asking, "Are you Eskimo?" The other kid's name was Dennes Boon. After realizing the mistake, Boon let loose a stream of verbal wit. Watt thought he had just met the smartest human on the planet. (It wasn't until later; he discovered Boon had given a word for word recitation of some of George Carlin's comedy routines.) It didn't matter: a great friendship was begun.

When Watt took up playing bass, it was largely to keep him and his new best friend off the sketchy streets of Pedro. Boon's mother, Marjorie suggested they start a band to keep them occupied indoors. (In the early 1970's, this was definitely not an activity many parents would encourage.) Mrs. Boon decided that her son would play guitar and his new friend Mike would play bass.

At the time, Watt and Boon's exposure to rock music was limited to FM radio (in those days play lists were less restrictive than now), records they collected - The Who for Mike, Hank Williams for Boon - or heard (Mike's mom liked Bob Dylan) and the big selling acts that came to town. Watt's first concert was T Rex at the Long Beach Sports Arena, watched from the cheap seats far from the stage. When he first started playing, he just removed two strings from a guitar, because that's what a bass guitar looked like. Watt was16 before he had saved enough money to buy his first real bass.

If the way a bass looked was confusing, it was even harder to imagine how a bass sounded, because on most recordings of the era, the bass was buried in the final mix. So the players Watt got to know and like were ones he could really hear: The Who's John Entwistle, Cream's Jack Bruce, Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler, Sly And The Family Stone's Larry Graham and Motown session player James Jamerson. Together, with Boon's younger brother Joe on drums they played covers of popular rock songs at events like local bar mitzvahs and on one memorable occasion, half time at a San Pedro High School football game. They were so "different," they had to be rescued mid-performance from the field (and from an angry crowd) by Boon's dad.

When they graduated from high school in 1976, "punk," was a very newly minted genre of rock music; an unruly reaction to the increasing commercialism of the music business. Ironically, over the years, punk has come to represent a specific sound (fast-paced, few chords, imperative vocals), but when it first emerged it was more of an attitude, a freedom to explore, extract or combine any kind of music and visual appearance, as long as it was genuine and unfiltered, from the head, the heart or the groin. You didn't even have to know how to sing or use an instrument to be "punk rock"; you just had to play like your life depended on it, each and every time.

In the late 1970's, few musicians in Pedro wrote their own songs and if they did, they tried to copy what was already popular. With the advent of punk, especially inspired by new British bands Wire and The Pop Group, Boon and Watt realized they could write their own songs and invent their own sound In 1978, with drummer George Hurley and vocalist Martin Tamburovich, they formed The Reactionaries and then in 1980, the trio of Boon, Hurley and Watt became the Minutemen (after a couple of gigs with drummer Frank Tonche). They were quickly embraced by the LA "punk" scene, which by then included Black Flag (who took them on their first European tour in 1983), The Germs and Circle Jerks, visual artist Raymond Pettibon, who created many of their flyers and album covers, and independent labels, like their own New Alliance Records, which released Husker Du's first single, and SST, for whom the Minutemen later recorded.

From the start, even amongst their super freak punk peers, the Minutemen displayed a very original style. Their extremely brief and efficient songs were a kaleidoscope of musical genres, from the short bursts of what has now come to define punk to psychedelic, hardcore, folk and jazz, while referencing wildly dissimilar artists like John Coltrane, Captain Beefheart, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult. Their lyrics were succinct, too, yet eloquent. Their name itself was a play on words: they were (mahy-noot) men, blue-collar working stiffs who loved great works of fiction, history and politics and who could toss astute barbs at Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson and others. They had their own lexicon known as "Pedro-speak." Words and phrases like "we jam econo" "mersh" and "this band could be your life" still endure three decades later.

From early on Watt's lyrics were especially pre-occupied with the individual. Rather than writing anthems for an unknown public, he wrote about himself, initially as "I," then later in the third person as "Watt," often riffing in an abstract beat-poet style on fleeting thoughts, mundane personal experiences, books and authors he loved - particularly James Joyce - and his own optimistic ideals.

From 1981-1985, the Minutemen recorded 4 albums and 8 EPs, cheaply and quickly. It wasn't until 1984 that they were earning enough money for Watt to quit his various day jobs, which by then included cable TV installer, electric company meter reader, dishwasher and paralegal. Ironically - much like the music business today - because of modest sales, they saw their records as "flyers, " or advertising for their tours, which were also done on the cheap, multiple bands, one van, no or few days off. As Watt still says: "If you're not playing, you're paying."

In 1985, Watt began experimenting with playing bass in a duo with former Black Flag bassist and then girlfriend, Kira Roessler, with whom he had also begun writing songs. Dos, as they are known, has continued to perform and record occasionally ever since, with their fourth album, "Dos y Dos," mixed by Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto, Plastic Ono Band), released in 2011. Over the years, Dos has been quietly ferocious, serving as the breeding ground for new ideas, songs and virtuosity.

On the verge of widespread recognition, The Minutemen had just concluded a US tour (opening for then rising stars REM), when D Boon died in a van accident on an Arizona highway early in the morning of December 22, 1985. Watt had celebrated his 28th birthday two days earlier.

For months after, Watt was grieving hard, unsure if he would or could continue making music without D Boon, his best friend and muse. In the spring of 1986, aware that Watt was a Madonna fan, Sonic Youth invited him to contribute a track to "The Whitey Album," their Ciccone Youth side project. He delivered a frenzied, 4-track, solo version of "Burnin' Up." It was to be his first post-Minutemen recording.

Also in 1986, Ed Crawford, a then 21-year-old guitarist and fan from the Midwest (Ed fROMOHIO) heard (inaccurately) that Watt was looking for musicians with whom to start another band. He got Watt's (then) listed phone number and drove directly to Watt's tiny apartment in Pedro. For the next several months, Crawford camped out on his floor until an understandably depressed and unsettled Watt agreed to form a band, with him and George Hurley. That trio, fIREHOSE (1986-1994), recorded 5 albums (3 on SST and 2 on Columbia Records), 2 EPs and did 20 tours, with Watt continuing to provoke and inspire a new generation of listeners as fIREHOSE rode the big new wave of college radio promoted "alternative" music.

Watt disbanded fIREHOSE in January 1994. By then, his 6-year marriage to Kira had also ended. Having been a member of a group since he was a teenager, Watt was ready to begin a new musical adventure: playing bass with lots of different musicians in lots of different configurations. In 1995 to much anticipation and critical acclaim, he released and toured his first solo album "Ball Hog or Tugboat?" The 48 friends who contributed to that recording included some of the most noted musicians of the era, including members of Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, Screaming Trees, Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and Bikini Kill. Although to some it may have seemed like a canny all-star fan fest, the recording was a mutual love dance and it has since led to many more provocative collaborations.

In 1995, Watt also recorded the first of two albums with Banyan, Jane's Addiction drummer's Stephen Perkins revolving personnel, improvisational jazz influenced group, with whom Watt continues to gig with from time to time.

Eager for more new experiences, in 1996, Watt recorded and toured with Perry Farrell's Porno For Pyros, as a hired sideman or in Pedro-speak, "a side mouse." Also in 1996, Watt started playing live shows with the local "practice" band he'd established in 1993 with two longshoremen friends: keyboard player Pete Mazich and drummer Jerry Trebotic (with whom he would later form The Secondmen). Nicknamed the Madonnabes, the trio practiced Madonna songs to improve their chops. With the addition of two teenage dancers, from 1996-1999, the Madonnabes sporadically played live shows in and around LA, with Watt wearing a secondhand Nutcracker Ballet mouse costume and Mazich in a dress and blonde wig. Reportedly, Madonna attended one of their gigs in 1998. Watt was turning 40 in 1997 and as many approaching that peculiar milestone, he had begun reflecting on the past events of his life. That year he recorded and released the first of his three thematic "operas."
Contemplating the Engine Room" was oddly both a departure from and a return to Watt's roots. As a boy, he had been captivated by the Who's " A Quick One, While He's Away," their 1966 pre-"Tommy" 9-minute rock opera from "Happy Jack," their second US album release. Watt had also recently begun listening to the Saturday afternoon "Live From the Metropolitan Opera" radio broadcasts. The boldly emotional musical style and high drama of the 400-year-old genre intrigued him. Opera offered a new means of expression: a cathartic way to tell a whole story in songs linked together by a narrative theme.

Inspired by both James Joyce's all in one day opus "Ulysses" and "The Sand Pebbles," Richard McKenna's 1962 Naval themed novel and composed during his daily early morning bike rides around Pedro, Watt crafted a musical allegory, relating the story of his own life on the road with D Boon and the Minutemen to his father's life traveling the world in the Navy. Watt's father, who had died from cancer in 1991 (without ever having seen his son perform), had been a Navy Chief, whom for twenty years worked in the engine rooms of aircraft carriers including the Enterprise, and had served in the Vietnam War.

Contemplating the Engine Room" was also Watt's first foray into project specific ensembles; writing songs with different musicians in mind. For this opera, he assembled The Black Gang: Watt on bass and singing, LA's experimental (and future Wilco) guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits). The album was heartbreakingly beautiful, a musical momento mori. In songs such as "Liberty Calls!," "Breaking the Choke Hold," and "Shore Duty," Watt honored, celebrated and mourned the two most important men in his life.

He toured the album in the US and Europe throughout 1998, playing it almost 200 times. For various tour segments, Watt needed to replace members of the Black Gang due to scheduling conflicts, altering the band's name slightly each time to reflect the change in personnel, a habit he continues today with many of his project specific groups. In early 1999, he performed the opera one final time at the Viper Room in LA. At the show's conclusion, in a highly dramatic public gesture, Watt had the beard he had grown since the opera's first performance 16 months earlier, shorn on stage. Although he has not played the opera since, Watt keeps the beard in his kitchen freezer.

Seeking another new challenge, for awhile, Watt talked about writing "Purr-man" an album length song cycle for organ, bass and drums, inspired as much by jazz organist Jimmy Smith's "The Cat," as the habits of his much beloved tabby, Man. But before it was begun, Man died in the summer of 1999. The cat, who was 18 years old, had been his constant companion since the start of the Minutemen. Watt was devastated; especially after the emotionally charged year he had spent performing "...Engine Room." This loss was another reminder that his days with D Boon were fading further from view and Watt never mentioned his "cat" project again.

In January 2000, right after performing with Banyan at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Watt suddenly fell dangerously ill. Returning to Pedro, he spent several weeks confined to his apartment, delusional with flu-like symptoms and fever. Then on February 28, an abscess in his perineum burst and he was rushed by ambulance to LA Country Medical Center dying from infection and loss of blood. He had no health insurance. Incredibly, with emergency surgery he survived, but he had a grim 3-month long recovery (and a $36,000 medical bill). Too weak to leave his bed or play bass, he spent the time reading; returning to books that had inspired and puzzled him in his youth including Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy."

When he was finally able to work again, Watt said yes to everything. He created Hellride with Stephen Perkins and Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano to reinterpret Stooges songs through the free jazz prism of John Coltrane. He DJ'd punk rock aerobics classes. After years troubled by the loss of others, he was suddenly really, really happy to be alive.

Watt decided to pursue his bass, organ and drum trio idea, but now it had a new narrative focus; his own Dante like journey into hell, agonizing convalescence and eventual arrival in paradise: his return to playing bass, biking and kayaking.

The project was delayed in early 2001 when Watt agreed to be a sidemouse again when Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis invited him to play on a world tour with J Mascis + The Fog. Watt also toured that year with the Jom and Terry Show, with Slovenly/Red Krayola's Tom Watson on guitar and Jerry Trebotic on drums.

A one-off gig at the Pukkelpop 2002 Festival in Hasselt, Belgium, covering Stooges songs as Asheton, Asheton, Mascis + Watt proved fateful. Five years earlier, in 1997, Watt and Ron Asheton, along with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, Gumball's Don Fleming and Mudhoney's Mark Arm had recorded Stooges songs as the Wylde Ratttz for the 1998 Todd Haynes film "Velvet Goldmine." The group again recorded together in the summer of 1998 but the resulting album was never released due to legal obstacles.

Unbeknownst to Watt, by 2002, Iggy had for some time considered reforming the Stooges and the Pukkelpop gig with Ron and Scotty Asheton was pivotal in the decision to ask Watt to join them (the Stooges original bass player Dave Alexander died in 1975).

So at the Coachella Festival in April 2003, Watt began his ultimate sidemouse gig, playing bass for the "re-ignited" Iggy and the Stooges. Although that band had initially been short lived, (1967-71 and 72-74), the Stooges had been a huge influence on both Boon and Watt as teenagers. And while healing from "that illness" in 2000, Watt had obsessively practiced the bass line for the Stooges' "Little Doll," to relearn how to play. In a weird way, he had been preparing for this role his entire life.

But this once in a lifetime opportunity required a commitment which meant Watt's own touring and recording schedule would now be dictated by when he wasn't playing with the Stooges. Through working with them, Watt has been exposed not only to the biggest and widest audiences of his career, but also to new musicians and new recording opportunities, including making an album with the Stooges, "The Weirdness," released in 2007.

In the winter of 2003, Watt's first book "The Spiels of a Minuteman," was published by Quebec independent, L'Oie De Cravan. Printed in French and English, it includes all of Watt's lyrics for that band, his 1983 Black Flag/Minutemen tour journal, essays about the Minutemen by Joe Carducci, Richard Meltzer and Watt, with art contributed by Raymond Pettibon.

In 2004, Watt finally recorded, released and toured his second opera, "The Second Man's Middle Stand," with The Secondmen - - Watt, with Pete Mazich on Hammond B3 organ and Jerry Trebotic playing drums - - a trio he had formed and been touring with since 2002. Based on his illness in 2000, Watt described, in often surprisingly tuneful, medical detail in songs such as " Piss Bags and Tubing," his excruciatingly slow, yet grateful recovery from his life-threatening perineum infection; the song cycle structurally mirroring Dante's three part Divine Comedy: 'Hell," Purgatory" and "Paradise."

Around this time, Watt again began to re-evaluate his life and career thus far. He had been so focused on playing live and touring, that seven years had passed between the releases of his two operas. Perhaps fearing his own eventual demise, Watt also knew recordings would later serve as proof of his existence. So he began making records, a lot of them, with as many people as possible, in as many on-going configurations as possible.

In 2005, Watt was invited to be part of The Unknown Instructors, a spoken word/ improvisational group formed by vocalist/saxophonist and poet Dan McGuire, along with Saccharine Trust's Joe Baiza (guitar) and Jack Brewer (vocals), and drummer George Hurley. It gave Watt a chance to play bass while "spieling" some of his poems to music that ranged from straight blues to garage rock to psychedelic and free form punk jazz; often to hypnotic effect. Working on a fourth recording in 2012, the group has already released three albums: "They Way Things Work," (2005); and with the addition of Pere Ubu vocalist David Thomas and artist/vocalist Raymond Pettibon, "The Master's Voice" (2007), and "Funland" (2009). Watt has also contributed to recent recordings by the Book of Knots, former Pere Ubu bass player Tony Maimone's darkly beautiful musical collective.

With Watt's participation (and blessing), "We Jam Econo," a feature length documentary film chronicling the Minutemen's story, produced and directed by Keith Schieron and Tim Irwin, was released in 2005. Also that year, the McNally-Smith College of Music in Saint Paul, Minnesota announced the establishment of the Mike Watt Bass Guitar Scholarship, a $1000 award, given to an incoming or current student who shows exceptional ability on bass guitar.

While performing with the Stooges at the 2006 Big Day Out Festival in Australia he met The Go! Team. He was especially impressed by their young female guitarist/multi instrumentalist, Kaori Tsuchida. With Kaori, Watt created the duo Funanori, which paired his bass with the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three-stringed instrument, often likened to a banjo. They released a three-track EP in 2008. It was the first time Watt had written and recorded a whole project (with someone he hardly knew half way around the world) start to finish using the internet.

Also in 2008, along with Stooges sax player Steve MacKay, Watt recorded a un-titled album with Dublin experimental punk rock band Estel. Released in 2010, its four original tracks are named for the Gospels of the New Testament: "Matthew," "Mark," "Luke" and "John." It also included a cover of the Stooges "Fun House."

Before ever meeting them, Watt also began recording with Tokyo-based (Cornelius band members) drummer Yuko Araki and guitarist Hirotaka "Shimmy" Shimizu, adding bass to a track for an album by Migu, Araki's solo project. Watt was so inspired by these, two exceptionally talented players he began creating projects around them. He has since performed and recorded in Japan three yet-to-be released albums with them as Brother's Sister's Daughter; on the second album, adding Nels Cline and Yuka Honda. Araki and Shimmy also helped Watt complete a recording that had been brewing for over twenty years: "Spielgusher," a spoken word album with rock critic/Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Meltzer, released in 2012.

An invitation, in 2009 by M Ward to open for him at NYC 's Summerstage led to the creation of Floored by Four, a quartet with Nels Cline (guitar), Yuka Honda (keyboards) and Dougie Bowne (Lounge Lizards) on drums. They recorded a Watt composed album in a few days following this first gig, four mostly instrumental tracks stylistically inspired by each of these players. This recording also ultimately led to the 2010 marriage of Cline and Honda.

Also in 2009, Watt finally began recording his third "opera," "Hyphenated-Man," a work written for The Missingmen, a trio whom he had toured with since 2005 that included guitarist Tom Watson and local Pedro drummer Raul Morales. This opera was unlike the others, in that its narrative had no specific dramatic arc - no typical libretto. The way it was recorded was also unusual, with Watson and Morales recording the guitar and drums in the spring of 2009 at Tony Maimone's Studio G in Brooklyn and in spring, 2010, Watt adding bass and vocals, with Maimone serving as a co-producer.

It was inspired by two otherwise (apparently) unrelated sources: 16th C. Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch's mysterious and fantastic visual creations and the transformational experiences of the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, the poignant, "incomplete" male characters in the 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum's 1900 classic children's story "The Wizard of Oz." The album consists of thirty little impressionistic, intensely played, genre-busting musical pieces. Like a shattered mirror, each of these thirty sections is part of a whole, serving as a momentary snapshot of a ruminating thought; a series of middle-aged meditations on how men become men. Each tune is titled for one of Bosch's tortured creatures, many from his painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights," a work that has resisted decipherment for five centuries.

Watt observes and interprets the secrets of Bosch's troubled men-beasts in emotionally urgent, extremely "econo" tunes, served up in quick succession. Each has a lurid, evocative title such as "Hell- Building-Man," "Mockery-Robed-Man," "Pinned-to-the-Table-Man," and "Stuffed-in-the-Drum-Man." On "Wheel-Bound-Man," the album's closing track, Watt envisions a man who has come to terms with the unconscious trade-offs made in a life pursuing one's own imagination and as he so often does himself, acknowledges the limitations imposed by "the wheel," yet optimistically looks ahead.

Much to the delight of old and new fans alike, the album evoked the nimble sound and fury of the Minutemen, more than anything Watt had recorded since that band's untimely demise more than twenty-five years earlier.

"Hyphenated-Man" was released in Japan on Parabolica Records in late 2010 and then as the inaugural release of Watt's own Clenchedwrench label in 2011.

As of early 2012, Watt's artistic endeavors continue to diversify and multiply, with many different recording projects anticipated to take form this year, including "Mouthful," recorded recently in Memphis, Tennessee, and a debut by "Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade" with jazz stand-up bass player Devon Hoff and Matt Chamberlain on drums. And Watt's expected to tour with the Stooges, the Missingmen and Il Sogno del Marinaio. He's also scheduled to play the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in Minehead, England, in a rare duo appearance with George Hurley doing Minutemen songs.

As always, Watt persists in exceeding, defying and confounding musical (and other) expectations: the truly romantic embodiment of an authentic punk rocker.
Grant Hart (of Husker Du)
Grant Hart (of Husker Du)
In 1978, Grant Hart met Bob Mould and they became friends. In 1979, they formed a band and called it Hüsker Dü. Within nine years, they had not only become more well known than they dared hope, but had severely influenced the next generation of rock music. Then the band broke up.

The statement “the second rat gets the cheese” could be no truer than in the case of Hüsker Dü. The band inspired most of the “alternative” bands that went on to greater success in the years just following their break-up. They were denied both their cheese as well as a hell of a good loaf of bread in the punk/alternative bubble that expanded with no apparent limits in the early 1990′s. Neither Grant nor Bob have ever voiced regrets over this situation. Both are driven by a confidence in their work and in their future. While most every band that played in the 80′s or 90′s have exhausted their potential (not only once, but twice in this decade of reunions), Grant and Bob (and Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton) are still chasing the horizon in front of them.

As the Eighties dragged to a close, Grant made his solo record, Intolerance, and to help promote it, he formed the band NOVA MOB. That band lasted for five years and during that time they released two full albums, an EP and three singles. Two very cool videos were made that benefited from Grant’s longtime love of theater and film.

After that, Grant scaled back considerably following a significant accident on the Autobahn which, for all intents and purposes, brought NOVA MOB to an end. One principal has been constant in Grant’s career: complete independence as an artist. With that came working for years on records in the name of “artistic control” which also meant “artist-funded.” To that end, Grant continued to jump techniques and genres. Grant has often blurred the boundaries of his musical and visual art. Spoken word and the unspoken words are used in the same lyric. The records Good News for Modern Man and Hotwax were both born of long gestating mothers. Touring alone by train or car enabled Grant to perform his music for audiences that were sincere in their interest and love of his music. As time went on, there were two questions that were repeated nightly: “When are you going to put a band together?” and “when are Hüsker Dü going to do a reunion?” Both questions were answered with the next song on the setlist.

Grant embarked upon a recording project that would challenge all of his earlier efforts in terms of long lasting impact. Taking his inspiration from John Milton’s seventeenth century classic, “Paradise Lost,” an album was constructed that folded in diverse ingredients, ranging from Copernicus to Duchamp, Bessie Smith to Lou Reed.

This album, The Argument, features twenty songs. They range from the menace of “Awake, Arise” to the lovelorn strains of “Is the Sky the Limit?” Although inspired by an archaic and impenetrable epic, there Is enough rock ‘n’ roll here to fill a high school sock hop. The fine pop edge that Grant Hart has honed since the his earliest works has never been so sharp as this.
Venue Information:
Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY, 11249
http://www.brooklynbowl.com/

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