Mike Watt may be a “52-year-old punk rocker,” but he certainly isn’t over the hill. On Sunday at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta, bassist Watt and The Missingmen — guitarist Tom Watson, who shared vocal duties with Watt, and drummer Raul Morales — tore through song after song with awesome energy and facility, including gems from Watt’s legendary former band, the Minutemen.
The evening began with Santa Barbara’s own prog-folk band oso, whose complicated but accessible music warmed up the packed house.
Next up was Lite, a great band from Tokyo that as an opening band for Watt’s mini-tour was playing its first shows on the West Coast. The band’s precise proggy instrumental sound, which recalls Discipline-era King Crimson but with perhaps a bit more bite, was a big hit with the audience.
Watt, who described Lite as having “a lot of spirit, a lot of soul,” had earlier told me that Lite’s trip to America included plans to record tracks in Chicago with John McEntire from Tortoise and The Sea and Cake at the helm as producer. If their set at the Mercury Lounge is any indication of what to expect, this will definitely be worth checking out.
Watt and the Missingmen’s set opened with a high-energy cover of “Little Doll,” the closing track of the 1969 debut album by proto-punkers The Stooges, a band that Watt has played bass for since 2003. Watt’s singing captured some of Stooge frontman Iggy Pop’s swagger, and its Bo Diddley-inspired beat was nicely enhanced by Watt’s adventurous bass playing.
This was just the first of many great, high-energy cover songs, including a smokin’ version of “Fun House” by The Stooges, “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here” by L.A. band The Last, “Amnesty Report” and “We Are Time” by seminal Bristol band The Pop Group, and “Three Girl Rhumba” and “Ex Lion Tamer” by English art-punk band Wire, who Watt has identified as a huge influence on the Minutemen. In fact, Watt has credited Wire with giving the Minutemen the inspiration for writing their trademark short songs.
In a nod to Watt’s exposure to arena rock in his youth before punk rock hit, they also covered early Blue Oyster Cult track “The Red and the Black.”
The highlight of the show was certainly hearing the songs by the Minutemen. Understandably, after Minutemen guitarist D. Boon’s death in a car accident in 1985, it was difficult for Watt to even listen to Minutemen songs — let alone perform them. Fortunately, he is now able to appreciate them as great little songs, and it is a wonderful treat for us to hear them.
Most of the Minutemen songs came from their punky-funky classic 1984 album Double Nickels on the Dime. As a quick aside, the “Dime” in the album title doesn’t refer to Interstate 10, as is commonly believed, rather “on the dime” is like saying “on the nose.” The Minutemen were making fun of Sammy Hagar’s contemporary song “I Can’t Drive 55,” with “Double Nickels” being code for “55.”
The first Minutemen song of the evening was “One Reporter’s Opinion,” which starts out with the memorable line “What could be romantic to Mike Watt?” Also on the program was “Toadies” with hyper-fast strumming by Watson, “The Glory of Man,” “Anxious Mo-Fo” and “Black Sheep.”
For an encore, after a count of “1, 2, surf’s up,” the band launched into the Urinals’ instrumental “Surfin’ With the Shah.” Responding to the crowd’s enthusiasm, Watt yelled out, “Start a band” and, in tribute to his fallen comrade, “D. Boon.”
Special mention must be made of Watt’s killer bass-playing throughout the show. Having dabbled a little on the bass myself, it was amazing to see how strong he is with the bass, and how he jumps all over the neck with such ease.
Watt and the Missingmen are putting the finishing touches on Watt’s third “opera,” Hyphenated-Man, which will make its live debut in Japan. Hopefully, they’ll come back to our area to perform it for us.
Setlist (including the band that originally recorded the song)
Little Doll (The Stooges)
She Don’t Know Why I’m Here (The Last)
Sweet Honey Pie (Roky Erickson)
The Big Bang Theory (Mike Watt)
Forever/One Reporter’s Opinion (Mike Watt/Minutemen)
Conspirator’s Oath (The Red Crayola)
Amnesty Report (The Pop Group)
Black Sheep (Minutemen)
The Glory of Man (Minutemen)
Anxious Mo-Fo (Minutemen)
Three Girl Rhumba (Wire)
Ex Lion Tamer (Wire)
Fun House (The Stooges)
The Red and the Black (Blue Oyster Cult)
We Are Time (The Pop Group)
Surfin’ With the Shah (Urinals)
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.