MIKE WATT (Buy CDs by this artist)
Ball-Hog or Tugboat? (Columbia) 1994
Contemplating the Engine Room (Columbia) 1997
A blue-collar hero in an art-school world, bassist and working-joe conceptualist Mike Watt has been a titanic presence on the avant-rock scene since the dawn of the '80s when he, guitarist D Boon and drummer George Hurley formed the Minutemen. That spectacularly prolific (a dozen records in just five years) band's heady mélange of skittery avant-garde rhythms, burly guitar assays and agit- prop sloganeering was as revelatory a development as any in punk rock's two-decade history. When Boon was killed in a van crash in December 1985, Watt considered abdicating his station, but he and Hurley were coaxed into perseverance by an Ohio-bred Minutemen fan, Ed Crawford, thus propagating fIREHOSE.
When that band wound down, the proud resident of San Pedro, California reverted to his long-held position that the bassist what he's often called "the lame guy's position" was meant to be heard and not seen, which prompted the assembly of the promethean posse that appears on his solo debut, Ball-Hog or Tugboat? On the cast- of-dozens disc, Watt does his best to avoid the spotlight, ceding vocal chores to disciples as varied as Eddie Vedder (whose straight-faced reading of the anti-rockist "Against the 70's" vindicates him from Pearl Jam's excesses) and Evan Dando (an appropriate choice for the loopy-yet- loving "Piss-Bottle Man," which Watt wrote in tribute to his road-weary father). To Watt's credit, he never lets things degenerate into the sort of jam-session indolence so common to cronies-in-the-studio packages: even the faithful cover of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" (a chance for J Mascis to pump up the volume) maintains a clear sense of purpose. It's a dizzying compendium of hipster jive, balls-to-the- wall rock and asides like Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna's impassioned spoken-word piece explaining why she won't appear on the album (a boys' club atmosphere and the presence of an alleged rapist). Still, the titular question posed by Ball-Hog or Tugboat? makes it clear that Mike Watt will always be the latter the kind of man- machine that rock needs to get it out of its axis-bending ruts.[David Sprague]
See also Sonic Youth
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