Sometimes, it’s nice to have music to comfort us – to soothe our troubles away and help us drift off into an opium-like reverie. Other times, however, it is good to have a solid kick up the arse from someone who challenges genre stereotypes and plays in the style of whatever they goddamn please. Mike Watt has been one of those people since the early days of '80s hardcore, where the Minutemen took the creative aspect of that scene as far as they could with a blend of funk, hardcore and jazz. Reappearing at later times with the more melodic but still innovative work of fIREHOSE as well as a stint playing with Iggy and the Stooges, Watt is currently touring as Mike Watt and the Missingmen. As determined as ever to challenge musical preconceptions, tonight’s show at the Brudenell Social Club is centred around a miniature rock opera; ‘one song, in 30 parts, in 45 minutes’ as Watt himself describes it, before an apology which suggests he hasn’t quite realised how respected his musical path is. Before this happens, however, Cincinnati post-hardcore enthusiasts Ampline open the night’s proceedings. We arrive late for their set but catch a couple of tracks of driving guitar riffs and pounding drums in the style of an instrumental Nation of Ulysses, making us wish we’d been a little quicker off the mark. Then it was straight to the bar before Watt and his band (guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales) took to the stage to perform, in its entirety, the record Hyphenated-Man. Basing each of its 30 tracks on a different creature created by Hieronymus Bosch, the music changes direction with lightning quick speed; sailing to the outer reaches when it has too, but always tethered to a central groove by Watt’s distinctive funk-laden bass. Musically it is often in line with early Minutemen recordings, the strange but enthralling lovechild of hardcore and jazz with bellowed lyrics and unexpected chord directions. Occasionally it simmers down into an almost sarcastic lounge vibe, with Watt’s vocals on these occasions bringing to mind Delta blues singer/guitarist Sam Chatmon, before ramping up again to a savage intensity.
He clearly has every change and variation of the incredibly technical music being played burnt deep onto his brain - occasionally turning to his bandmates and peering myopically like a teacher watching his class deep in work, or chopping a hand through the air when a specific change in tempo is required. Not that the two musicians with him seem to need supervision, as it is clear from the first few notes that he has chosen musicians fully up to the task set them. As the last song fades away the crowd is quiet for a minute, processing what they have just heard, but when realisation hits that it is the end the cheering is fierce. Clearly no apology was needed and the crowd have been given the sonic shock therapy they were here for. That doesn’t mean anyone is going straight home though, we all know an encore is still to come. This turns out to be a lengthy proposition and one that is just as good as the main body of the set, a clutch of Minutemen songs for which Tom Watson takes up much of the vocal duties. This brings us full circle to the influences apparent in Hyphenated-Man; a fitting tribute to the memory of D. Boon, whose Telecaster guitar the album was written on. Leaving the stage for a final time, he signs out with two shouts; ‘start yer own band’ quickly followed by ‘John Coltrane’, the first an allusion to the legendary shows of Texan funk punk pioneers the Big Boys, the second a confirmation if we needed one of a love of the freeform nature of jazz. Watt needn’t have worried, we loved every fucking minute of it.