Album Reviews

Mike Watt

“ring spiel” tour ‘95

Artist:     Mike Watt

Album:     “ring spiel” tour ‘95

Label:     Columbia/Legacy

Release Date:     11/11/2016


Jammin’ econo all the way, bass legend Mike Watt was eager to shake the rafters at Chicago’s Metro club in 1995 in support of his star-studded debut solo effort, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, recorded in the aftermath of fIREHOSE’s breakup and his divorce from former Black Flag bassist, Kira Roessler. Doing the grunt work alongside their underground punk hero, in true D.I.Y. fashion, acolytes Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl served as his backing band. They didn’t expect to be treated like royalty. They lugged their own gear in and out of venues. They rode in the van from town to town. Maybe that’s why “ring spiel” tour ’95, the newly released live document of that very gig, sounds so raw and full of vitality.

At times a raging hurricane of burning guitars, fluid bass contortions, vigorous drum bashing and blue-collar growling, the band storms through “Against the ‘70s” at a Category 5 level, and the explosion that is Vedder’s confrontational and emotional “Habit” – found on Pearl Jam’s No Code LP – emits a mushroom cloud of thermonuclear noise and fury. After traipsing rather gingerly through a soft, aimless cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Walking the Cow” to open the show, Watt and company spit chewing tobacco and fire with a heavy redneck drawl while roaring through Chip and Tony Kinman’s “Big Train” and erupt violently in “Piss-Bottle Man” – its hooky chorus like a firm handshake – as the Who did in their salad days.

While reading Michael Azzerad’s enthusiastic and insightful liner notes, the ominous rumble and quickening pulse of “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” and a fiery remake of Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black” – both favorites from Watt’s days with punk rabble rousers, the Minutemen – divert attention with the catastrophic force of car crashes. With its poignant melody, so pronounced here, “Chinese Firedrill” attracts scrutiny with more subtlety, as do the simple charms of “Drove Up from Pedro.” A celebration of ideals and principles, as well as good, honest songwriting and a working-class ethos of performing with passion and reckless abandon, “ring spiel” tour ’95 is all heart. D. Boon would approve.

-Peter Lindblad

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