I’ve been jumping into the musical Wayback Machine to disappear into my post-college groove and deflect this post-apocalyptic shit storm. Since the 11/9 election terrorism attack, I’ve already taken a psychic shower in 80s greats Adrian Belew, The Revolution and Laurie Anderson. On May 19, Chicago’s Lincoln Hall presented another welcome spritz in American ur-indie/post-punk.
Legendary bandsmith Mike Watt, “the man in the van with a bass in his hand,” along with “The Jom and Terry Show” (sic), shook the sold out house before the Meat Puppets took the stage. Watt’s seminal Minutemen group had toured with MP (and also with amazing trio Hüsker Dü) in spring 1985 for “The Tour Tour,’ now calling this current Midwest/East Coast stint “The Tour Tour Too.”
The Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood had written that on the last night of the old tour, somebody found a discarded light bulb box printed with “Econ-o-Watt,” which they cut out and duct taped to Watt’s shaved head. This cranial road sign became “the gist of Mike and the Minutemen’s ethos: Tour Econo!”
“Mike still flies that flag,” Cris said. Watt was joined by Missingmen (another band iteration after Minutemen co-founder D. Boon’s tragic death at age 27 in 1985) guitarist Tom Watson, and Secondmen drummer Jerry Terbotic.
They mos def jam econo. Among tight starts and stops, Watson’s shotgun guitar was rapid-fire scratch and strum, biting off chords, while Terbotic’s drums ferociously drove the urgency of each song like a Republican town hall meeting.
Driving the trio and commanding his Wattplower bass, bespectacled Watt, whose influences include Coltrane and Blue Öyster Cult, first announced he was conceived in Chicago (but born in Virginia), and had just driven in from Cleveland (and also carries his thrifty theme by touring in a Ford Econoline van), bitching about the I80 tolls, “haven’t done that in a while.”
“We came to play for you,” Watt said.” “That’s what we came to do.”
And they did, hard and heady, before introducing the Meat Puppets, now a four-piece led by Cris and his brother Curt, looking a little and harmonizing a lot like ZZ Top, offering a wall-of-noise hootenanny of southern cowpunk (some slide guitar) meets Judas Priest, perhaps, including fave 80s tunes like “Up On the Sun”: “not too much more, too much more.” The audience was reminded of their influence on grunge, notably Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and the recently newsworthy Soundgarden.
Opening trio Porcupine was also energetic, sometimes utilizing a faraway fuzzy “old-timey” mic (Hüsker Dü’s bassist Greg Norton joined this trio in 2016). All three acts joined on stage for a final long jam to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from 1966’s “Revolver.” These dudes really like and respect each other, and their energy was a palpable balm. They were grateful to play, and we were privileged to listen to masters at the top of their craft.
Watt is the glue in seminal bands including the reunited Stooges, Sonic Youth, and even with American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson. He’s the encyclopedia of late-century American music, the repository of rock, the one who survived. The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea presented him with Bass Player Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
At age 59, Watt’s verve still stems from his love of his fallen friend. He writes, “D. Boon was my best friend since we were 13 and the reason I started and still to this day play music. I think of him every day. His spirit lives on in the work I continue to do.”
“Folks ask what kind of bass player I am. My answer is ‘I’m D. Boon’s bass player.’”
LaCrosse, Wis., and Minneapolis-based Porcupine says, “there are approximately seven million indie bands operating on planet Earth as of yesterday…we are one of them.”