Mike Watt and the Missing Men - live in Charleston (Cover Artwork)

Mike Watt and the Missing Men

live in Charleston (2011)

live show

Another Sunday night show in Charleston, this time at the Pour House right outside Folly Beach. A little suffering on Monday would be worth it to see someone who's basically a living legend of Southern California punk rock, in what would be a little more intimate setting than an arena stage at Bumbershoot in Seattle a few years ago when he played with the Stooges. I've loved the Minutemen ever since my buddy Josh gave me a cassette of 1983's Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat to listen to in my car once my CD player had gone tits up. I would rewind and listen to "Little Man with a Gun in His Hand" over and over while getting high in between shifts of stuffing newspapers while I was flunking out of college. The Minutemen weren't always about a constant barrage of sound as their peers tended to practice, but when they wanted to they could produce something 10 times more intense than anything Black Flag could ever muster. When I first started playing an instrument it was the bass, and Mike Watt was something of an idol for me. I've had copies of all his solo material, and gave a brief listen to the newer stuff with the Missing Men. With a sound leaning more towards his Minutemen days than anything else he's done, I was ready to hear it live.

The opening act was a two-piece with a guitar and drummer, the Fairy God Muthas. The drummer actually wrote a piece in the Charleston City Paper about the upcoming show, citing Mike Watt as a heavy influence. Their material leaned toward some bluesier and heavy rock numbers, and most of the subject material was standard rock and roll fare. They played a slower breakup song that was the highlight of their set towards the end, and then moved into a cool rendition of the Stooges' "Search and Destroy" to close. One has to wonder if they were hoping Mike would fill the bass void for them on that one. These guys could benefit from one or two more members to fill out their sound, and maybe add a bit more to their stage act. Not a bad warm-up act, just a bad name!

Mike Watt and the Missing Men took the stage around 10:30 and proceeded to blow my mind. The first portion of the set was composed of the entirety of their album Hyphenated-Man in one continuous stream. Jamming econo all the way through, the erratic rhythms and timing changes were all the more exciting for me, having never heard any of this album before. Wearing a knee brace and slapping the shit out of his customized Gibson, the years of touring in all his various bands have not been kind to Mike, but he demonstrated true mastery of his instrument. The stream-of-consciousness, beatnik, jazzy element to the set was exciting to watch, and Mike was well-matched by his bandmates Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales on drums, both with plaid shirts and musicianship. Many times throughout the set, Mike almost seemed to be on the verge of collapse, only to strike up the next song with little-to-no pause. In a world where time is such a commodity, the Missing Men are distilling it down to its most important parts and not forgetting to leave out the strange. After finishing the entire album, they left the stage, only to come back up to play some highlights from the Minutemen's double-album masterpiece, 1984's Double Nickels on a Dime.

I said the years have not been kind to Mike Watt; physically, he looked a bit beat down, but he has surely learned and earned much kindness along the way. He stuck around after the gig signing records and talking up the old days with everyone who had ears to listen, and I didn't leave without making sure he signed my copy of Double Nickels on a Dime. When he did, I told him he was a major influence on me and my decision to play the bass when I was younger. He called me brother bassman and signed it that way, then just said one word..."Respect," as I walked away. He has earned mine surely–a man who was breaking boundaries on what was acceptable in the midst of the regimented hardcore scene of the early '80s, and who in the twilight of his life will continue to break new ones.

If you get the chance, go see Mike play, and see one of the few living legends of the punk scene who has weathered the storm with his integrity intact. Respect.