Embarrassing but true fact: The first time I saw Mike Watt perform, I had only the vaguest idea of who he was. The year was approximately 1992, and my friends had convinced me to go with them to see a band called fIREHOSE, for whom Watt played bass. I knew the broad outlines of his story – that he had been in the Minutemen, who had come to a tragic end with leader D. Boon’s death in a car crash, and had quit music for some years before being cajoled out of retirement by fIREHOSE singer Ed Crawford – but I did not know at the time that he was an Important Figure. Almost everything about that show has been lost in the mists of time, though I do remember that as an encore they did a cover of the Butthole Surfers’ “Revolution, Pt. 2″ – the one that ends with a chant of “Garry Shandling, Garry Shandling” – and that this made me very happy.
Fast-forward to 2011. fIREHOSE broke up not long after I saw them, and in the intervening years Watt has released a number of solo albums, including one (Ball-Hog or Tugboat?) that got a big push from a major label and even some radio play. Every one since then has been increasingly esoteric and low-profile, though not necessarily in a bad way. Watt was never at home in the Long Plastic Hallway.
So last night a group of those same friends and I got our middle-aged butts in gear and made the trek to Bottom of the Hill to see Watt perform his latest opus, Hyphenated-Man, a 30-song, 47-minute autobiographical “punk opera.” There were many travails along the way. We lost one of our number, Mr. X, to unspecified complications before we even got started. When we finally took up our places along the rail at BOTH, it was after 10:00 and there were two opening acts still to go.
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