Mike Watt tours and remembers the salad days of punk rock

October 14, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

If there's one thing Mike Watt knows, it's the road. "The way a tour is, it always sucks all [other] events in, like a vortex," he says over the phone from his home in San Pedro, Calif. "This will be my 29th tour," he says. "No, my 30th tour. So I kinda know the drill. But it's always scary."

Scary, but fun. Over the years, Watt has toured as the bassist for a number of groups. First, there was the daring, funk-informed punk band the Minutemen, which he helped found in 1979. Then, after the death of guitarist D. Boone in an auto accident in 1985, he formed fIREHOSE, which pretty much picked up where the Minutemen left off.

Watt disbanded fIREHOSE in 1994 and went solo, releasing the rangy, ambitious solo album, "Ball-Hog or Tugboat?" the following year. In 1997, Watt took his songwriting a step further with "Contemplating the Engine Room," a small-scale rock opera he toured behind for the better part of a year.

Now he's out on the road with his new band, the Pair of Pliers (guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Vince Meghrouni), and Watt wants to convey a down-home sensibility with his music. "I just want to do songs as if you would see me in my town, and I was trying to play my brains out," he says.

Hence the simpler, "anti-conceptual" aapproach of this tour.

"You are what you do," Watt says, and laughs. "You're not pushing a record, and you're not pushing a concept. You're being an old punk rocker."

Watt treats the "old" part of his image as if it were a joke, but at 41, he's at least a full generation ahead of the youngsters who currently make up punk rock's cutting edge. And that rankles a bit -- although not for the reasons you'd imagine.

When he first became interested in punk rock, back in the L.A. scene of the late '70s, the style was nowhere near as closely defined as it is now. "You know, the first band in the old punk scene in Hollywood, in the '70s, to sell out [a club] was this band called the Screamers that didn't even have a guitar," says Watt. "There was a lot more artistry involved in the music. And that was my wellspring. That's where I see it from, and I really haven't changed my views as punk got accepted by more and younger people." Watt laughs, and adds, "Then punk kinda got away from us. I saw it coming with hardcore, and then after that -- phew!"

Still, as much as he may be irked by the way the power of punk rock has been watered down by years of mindless repetition, he doesn't begrudge the younger fans' desire to imitate their idols. "They're learning how to play for the first time," he says, "so of course they all copy one style" -- but he does wish they could see beyond the obvious aspects of rebellion.

"This thing of rock and roll being the end-all, where it's just a big Nuremberg rally with everybody liking the same thing -- why is that a goal?" he says. "If I could accomplish one thing with my gigs, it would be to make an area safe for people to go crazy. You know, 'Hey, this is the stage. You're allowed to try wild art here. It's OK not to be safe.' "

When: Tuesday, Oct. 19, 9 p.m.

Where: Fletcher's, 701 S. Bond St.

Tickets: $12

Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets, 410-558-1889 for information.

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