Alex’s Bar patrons watched their saloon’s 10th birthday party mostly stoically, fanning the plumage of rockabilly and general crusty surliness as Mike Watt + The Secondmen leisurely set up their gear.
Watt shuffled on stage sporting a fatherly paunch and disarming glasses. When he began to play, looking like a drunk, face glazed with sweat and mouth askew, it took a while to reconcile the image of Mike Watt with what was happening with his hands and face and body. Much like when you see something shocking on the street—like people having sex or a grizzly car accident—there’s a lag time between the sensory and intellectual registration of what’s going on.
It is sometimes gorgeous to watch a person play an instrument. Nobody told Mike Watt that bass guitar is for keeping time, so he plays like an alchemist, hungry, dissolving and coagulating sonic waves and atoms into electrons and back again. He’s not looking for gold. That moment of anticipation when the alchemist stares into the fire and sees promise is far more perfect than any lump he may end up with. His partners in disambiguation, Jerry Trebotic on drums and Pete Mazich on the Hammond organ are, in keeping with Watt’s well-worn “man in the van” ethos and Pedro (Peedrow please, not Paydrow) roots, longshoremen by day and alchemical wizards by night.
One can’t help but hear echoes of the Minutemen in the distinctive bass lines and quicksilver drumming of Mike Watt + the Secondmen, especially after Watt’s balls out rendition of Minutemen classic, “This Ain’t No Picnic.” The organ makes it feel like a revival, some black sky midnight ceremony officiated by Watt and the specters of Tom Waits and Frank Zappa as he bounces in place and gleefully slaps bandmate Trebotic’s cymbals. Like the anchor amulet hanging from his neck, Watt is holding it down, and if he doesn’t gain any converts tonight, you can be sure he’ll be back again.