Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This is a live show that was recorded in 1995 at the Metro Club in Chicago. The backing band was a who’s who in the punk rock/alternative world in the mid-90s. You had Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) on backing vocals, Dave Grohl (Nirvana, before Foo Fighters) on backing vocals, Pat Smear (The Germs, Nirvana) on guitar and backing vocals, and William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate, before Foo Fighters) on drums. Mike Watt’s resume at that point included the Minutemen and Firehose. This was truly a punk super group. All of the backing band were already very established and famous in their own rights. Why would these guys agree to be a backing band and essentially take a back seat to Mike Watt? You know why? It was out of respect. That should give some indication of the influence Mike Watt had and still has on rock n’ roll music.
Watt is a self-made bass player and musician. He quipped that when he first started playing, he thought the tuning pegs were there to make the strings looser or tighter, depending on your preference. He has come a long way. On this Ring Spiel recording, the bass is as prominent as the lead guitars. Mike Watt helped to revolutionize the bass guitar and make it harmonic. It’s not just for time keeping anymore. Watt is a multitasker as well. He sings and plays bass simultaneously, executing both instruments to perfection. That is an amazing feat since I find it difficult to do 2 things at once. You know, like walking and talking.
Ring Spiel is a great historical marker of the punk/alternative music landscape back in ’95. It is actually more than that. It is a great album. It traverses alternative to punk to country to straight rock n’ roll and back again. Watt and company play a mixture of tunes from the Minutemen, Firehose, Eddie Vedder, Daniel Johnston, Blue Oyster Cult, and even Madonna. Yes, Secret Garden by Madonna and they do it quite well.
They even play some Mike Watt originals. Through all the tracks, you can clearly hear Watt’s bass twanging and slapping like the maestro. Chinese Firedrill (Track 8 ) is the pinnacle of numerous highlights on this recording. Chinese Firedrill is a melodic number Watt wrote and recorded on his 1995 album Ball-Hog Or Tug Boat. It is way less frenetic than Watt’s earlier works with The Minutemen and Firehose, but every bit as beautiful. He proved that he can slow it down and still make heartfelt music with tons of energy. Piss-Bottle Man (Track 9) was dedicated to Mike Watt’s father. Watt didn’t sing it on the album, Evan Dando did. Watt does sing it on this recording with some back up vocal assistance. His voice is perfect for his lyrics. It is a little bit raw and gravelly, perfect. Forever…One Reporter’s Opinion is a Minutemen song from their eponymous 1984 release Double Nickels On The Dime. Watt stretches it out and turns a one minute song onto a three minute number. The bass and guitar solos on this number are great. It even features dual drummers as Dave Grohl gets behind the kit as well.