The Upshot: From punk anthemism to prog excursions to covers of Daniel Johnston, BOC, and Madonna, it’s Watt’s world and you’re just living in it, via this live archival gem.
BY FRED MILLS
Mike Watt: you may have heard of ‘im. Cast your gaze back in time, to the alterna-Nineties, at which point the erstwhile Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist was both an alterna-elder statesman and an influential contemporary. With the release of Watt’s 1995 solo debut, ball-hog or tugboat?, a collaborative project of no small matter (said peers performing on the album included Rollins, Flea, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder… you may have heard of them), the musician was poised to take center stage as frontman du jour.
Only… he opted for left of center stage. Touring that year to promote the album, Watt called up from the alterna-reserves Vedder and Grohl, along with Pat Smear and William Goldsmith for his backing band, additionally tapping their respective projects Hovercraft and Foo Fighters for the tour’s opening acts, and set all phasers on “stun.”
“Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 revisits that tour—additionally rekindling this writer’s appropriately “stunned” memories from an Arizona stop—with as much primal vehemence and viscera-churning excellence as a live album can conjure. We’re not in double-live Frampton Comes Alive territory; more like Live at Leeds unreleased bootleg tapes. Whether your Watt leanings dip towards his inclination towards out-of-context covers like Daniel Johnson’s jaunty, rather groovy “Walking the Cow” and Blue Oyster Cult’s timeless boogie “The Red and the Black” (the latter given an appropriately M-men hardcore twist), or such punk anthemism as “Against the ‘70s” (that’s Vedder helping out on vocals) and twisted singalong “Piss-Bottle Man” (both Vedder and Grohl this time), there’s something for every Watt-acolyte stripe herein.
Perhaps “Forever… One Reporter’s Opinion,” which comes about ¾ of the way through Watt’s set (May 6, 1995, at Chicago’s Metro venue, to be exact), is the track you should earmark for playing the next time a Watt neophyte (or alien from the next galaxy, take your pick) comes to visit. An aggressive, discordant, almost jazzy-prog-punk rumble marked by frantic percussion and crazed Watt-Smear vocals, it neatly summarizes the Watt sonic aesthetic without coming across as muso or calculated: It’s simply Watt’s world, and you’re just living in at the moment.
Not a bad world to inhabit, come to think of it. Sign me up.
Incidentally, “Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 should be heard, if you have any audio savvy, as a 2-LP vinyl excursion. There’s a thundering, analog immediacy hard to deny here. And if you opt to spring for the limited-edition orange wax version, well, good on ya, mate. That’s what we call entertainment.
DOWNLOAD: “Forever… One Reporter’s Opinion,” “Piss-Bottle Man,” “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” “Drove Up from Pedro”