Mike Watt

Mike Watt

The Point, Atlanta • 5.5.09

There’s a site on the Web called How Bad Mike Watt Could Kick Steve Miller’s Ass (as if there’s even a question!). The site was developed over a year ago to settle a fight this dude had with his girlfriend when she said Mike Watt “sucked.” Being that she was a Steve Miller fan, he decided to throw the two in the ring…

So that’s where we are. Round 1. In corner #1 we have Steve Miller, one of the many mega-stars of the ’70s. Steve was a hippy. His songs were pop music, appealing to the masses (pop… duh). Anyway, here he is… Wow! The guy was stoned and sang about eagles and rockin’ people. Oh well, Lindsay (the girlfriend) likes him. In corner #2 is Mike Watt. Mike Watt wears flannel. Mike Watt drinks beer. Mike Watt was in the Minutemen, one of the most influential punk bands of all time. Mike Watt was in fIREHOSE, which rocks my world (and probably yours if you are in the know). Watt is respected by a lot of musicians today. They wish they could be half as cool as Mike Watt. On the Web, people have been placing their bets all year, saying things like “Mike Watt would kick the Christ out of that stoner hippy,” and “Of course, Watt could kick Mr. Fly like an ass… ” There haven’t been many votes in favor of Miller, though some people have said nice things about him before pledging their allegiances to Watt.

Going by size alone, I’d have to say Watt has the upper hand. Steve Miller, if I remember right, is pretty scrawny. Watt stands about 5’9″ and is built like a lumberjack. His flannel shirt and scrawling beard only add to the lumberjack impression — he looks like he could really fix your truck! When Watt took the stage at the Point, his eyes were filled with a knowing, earned pride. Pride in his songs, pride in his band and pride in his bass which, by the scratches and wearing paint, appears as if it’s been with him for awhile. Much of what Watt brings on stage seems as if it has been with him awhile. His songs are memories, stories about San Pedro. His band is made up of old friends, which proves that old punks never die, they grow up and learn to play their instruments. Tonight they were playing them rather well.

The musicianship Watt commands from his band mates is overwhelming. In turning the stage into the navy ship where his punk rock opera, Contemplating the Engine Room, takes place, Watt, drummer Bob Lee, and guitarist Joe Baiza entwine themselves in an almost psychic bond. It’s obvious that Watt is in control, as he directs the proceedings with tugs of his beard and winks of his eye, but never does he overpower his bandmates. Never does he smoother them. When the stage is turned to Baiza, a new power is unleashed. Baiza’s solos are faithful to the recorded versions laid down by Nels Cline, while maintaining a passion, identity and interpretation that is clearly his own.

Watt also brings a little of D Boon with him wherever he goes. Boon, a fellow member of the Minutemen, was killed in a car accident in 1985. He emerges from the Engine Room as the “Boiler Man,” in what becomes a three-way dialogue between Watt, his father, and Boon, lasting the rest of the evening. The swelling accompaniment of drums and guitars alternate between images of night sailing and bike rides on shore, to towering waves that knock the ship about and sends coal flying across the floor as the three scramble to keep the engine room in line. Memories, dreams and passions come together at the end on “Shore Duty,” which is Boon’s eulogy. “The unforgiving sea, pulled you from me,” Watt whispers above waves created by drums and cymbals, “but your spirit’s still sailing with me. I’m a lucky man, but I miss you man… “

Chills spread through the audience, then it’s over. The encore is a separate show. Different feelings, entirely. A scalding version of Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and The Black,” and some choice cuts from Ball Hog or Tugboat? Everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.

So, back to the fight. What do I think would happen if Mike Watt and Steve took it out in the ring? To be fair, I haven’t seen Steve Miller, but judging from what I saw at the Point, I would have to say that Miller goes down in the third round. Those of you who want to vote for yourselves can do so at http://people.unt.edu/~kwj0001/fistfite.html.

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