The Redwoods Bar and Grill in downtown Los Angeles hosted a bevy of great bands last Saturday night, capped by the magnetic, eclectic performance of the man with the van with the bass in his hand, Mike Watt, who did a set with his Missingmen, and which absolutely blew the roof off the place with its sheer and raw energy.
Downtown LA, mind you, is rather desolate, even during the peak hours of a Saturday night. Unlike New York City, which pulses to its own beat and snakelike charm 24/7, downtown Los Angeles is a still, solemn, quiet area at night, the atmosphere swirling around the eerie silence of the surrounding skyscrapers, which look dark and dormant. If you don’t have a car, and are caught walking its streets at night, there’s almost a sense of paranoia and emptiness abounding, as the more salacious nightcrawlers seem to be the denizens of the timeframes.
By the way the electricity surrounded the crowd and the general atmosphere at the Redwoods, however, you’d never know what was going on (or not going on) outside. The club, cozy and nautical-themed, replete with wood-style pirate ship physical trimmings and paintings of ships and boats adorning its walls, was a perfect place to see this kind of show. Before the bands came on, the digital jukebox bellowed out Stooges and MC5 tunes. A DJ then spun songs like the original version of “I Fought the Law.” Finally, all-girl band No Small Children opened the gig, which sported fast, loud, and intelligent punk and post-punk ditties about staying in bed and the perils of being a young woman, coupled with the lead singer nimbly playing her guitar with solid mixes of soloing, riffs out of the 1970s power pop meets early punk scorebook, harmonics, and even performing a more than capable TRUMPET solo during one song. The band absolutely killed it with their scrappy and attitudinally charming set. Highly recommended, you can check them out via their website. Followed by Feral Kizzy, who were a gender mixed group of keyboard, heavy guitar, and bass, tight bottom end, and a girl lead singer who also had the confidence down pat as she intermingled with crowd and stage, vocals on par and tip top, the crowd was hyped by their set’s end, and more than ready for the next act — Watt and the Missingmen.
A great portent of things to come was how efficient and quick they set up their gear. And once they did, once they plugged in, tuned in and turned on, as the clock struck the 11PM gong, the energy level, already at a good pace, amped up to the spires of the highest skyscrapers in LA. The first half of the set was covers of Clash tunes from that band’s earliest and arguably strongest era, 1976-1978. Watt and his musical compadres ran through that set like quicksilver fire coming out of the amplifiers, as Watt and guitarist Tom Watson sang and Raul Morales thudded the backbeat with the fervor, intensity, and swagger that alchemist Watt needs for the just-right formula. With full sweaty heart and soul, the best of that early Clash oeuvre played like a jukebox blasting those 45s in a pub in Manchester in 1977: “Janie Jones,” “Career Opportunities,” “I’m So Bored With The USA,” “Complete Control,” “Capital Radio One,” “Clash City Rockers,” and more. Those in the know in the audience bopped and strutted, pogoed, shimmied, and sang along; those who weren’t in the know still were blown away by the guttural blast of the tunes and the band and Watt’s playing and vocals, which were intense, sure-footed, and gritty, just like the genuine articles. When The Missingmen were done with the Clash set, Watt simply capped it off by saying “Joe Strummer” to huge applause. There’s no question he had done the late artist and frontman of The Clash proud and then some with this performance. It was as good as seeing the Clash if one had seen them in a small setting over 35 years ago.
Then came another set of covers, this time from from one of Watt’s fave circles of wax of all time, Wire’s Pink Flag – “Three Girl Rhumba,” “Ex-Lion Tamer,” and “106 Beats That.” The band used the original versions like a runaway on an aircraft carrier, and Watt and the band lit the fuse and off they went with them. Then came the bassman’s own tunes, “Conspirator’s Oath” and “Amnesty Report” as well as “The Glory of Man,” the classic track from Watt’s old stomping ground The Minutemen and from their seminal album Double Nickels On The Dime, which had the crowd reelin’ and a rockin’, movin’ and a groovin’. Papa didn’t take no mess children.
“Forever” and “On Reporter’s Opinion” (the latter track also from Double Nickels), with harmonics and the classic Watt botton-end gyrations and physical intensities, lastly commenced. The track goes up and down, left, sideways, out of the box, it is the box. It’s also from Watt’s first solo Econo jam, the guest-studded Ball Hog or Tug Boat, and The Missingmen stretched it to the sun’s mother earth and back again, bicycling it in a big gyroscope, boiling lava in a rusty metal pot with the lid off, as the amps became molten, the VU meters were a poppin, Watt’s thunderbroom of noise swept clean and spoke an eloquent frenzy. It was bliss for anyone into this and ear slicing of eclectism for the uninitiated. The band then ended it as quick as they began, with a big exclamation point, and it was finished.
Highlight of 2013 all wrapped up in one musically fell swoop of an hour. What got heard, that was the word. But this time, what got felt, wasn’t something else, it was also word, musical metaphors of word, kicking expansive, satisfaction, all done Econo size. For Watt, when it’s done Econo, it creates something that’s gargantuan, the scope becomes the grand canyon, the tunnel becomes the throughway, the highway becomes the galaxy. It’s that kind of trip with Watt. No frills, no mistakes, just sonic earthquakes.
Watt has upcoming gigs with The Missingmen, The Secondmen, and more, including those with Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Check out the man’s Hoot Page for info when he’s bringing all the cata-TONE-ic sonically charged spiel and mojo in the white van to your neck of the woods.
[All photos by Michael Percoco (Stoogeypedia) for Geeks Of Doom.]