Lately, in several blog posts, Facebook statuses, and in private conversations with friends and acquaintances, I've mentioned the music of Mike Watt, particularly the work in fIREHOSE and the Minutemen, as reminding me of high school. That's not entirely true. I didn't listen to either band until I was in the Navy, a couple years removed from 12th grade. I suppose I think of high school because both bands were on SST, a label that meant a lot to me--Black Flag, Descendents, Bad Brains, etc. Why I never heard Watt and Co. before, I'll never know.
I do remember that the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before the great fame, before Rick Rubin, before the sensitive ballads, name-dropped fIREHOSE in "Good Time Boys," the lead-off track of their 1989 record, Mother's Milk. It wasn't until I saw the video for "Down With The Bass" from Flyin' the Flannel in 1991 on MTV's 120 Minutes, that I actually went out and bought a fIREHOSE album. It was only a matter of weeks before I had the whole collection, and most of the Minutemen stuff too. Something about Ed Crawford's addition of traditional melody and classic rock and folk sensibility to the already potent mix of Hurley and Watt's drums and bass cemented fIREHOSE in my mind and heart as THE Mike Watt band. I know I'm in the minority here, as most fans consider the later a band a pale imitation / deviation from The Minutemen.
I however, do not.
There's something about a three-piece. Husker Du. Minutemen. fIREHOSE.
When i saw fIREHOSE live, in 1993 shortly before they broke up, the opened with "In My Mind" and closed 90 minutes later with Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker." I just remember a lot of bodies, many shirtless, furious, joyous, bouncing off one another in the tiny venue. These were the days of "moshing" and mosh we did. Anybody hearing fIREHOSE's music for the first time today might have a hard time imagining how we moshed to that.
I never saw Husker Du live. I can tell you this: I like the sound of a guitar plugged directly into an amp. A guitar with no fancy effects. This is what Bob Mould has done at the solo shows I've seen. Bob, one guitar, an amp, and his voice. If he needs to quiet it down, he picks up an acoustic. Simple. A good song can survive, and thrive, with minimal gear.
fIREHOSE and Matthew Sweet, of all people, took a similar approach. While playing with full bands, they more or less just plugged straight in. You'd think the guitar would sound the same throughout, smooth out the dynamics allowed by a few pedals, or a few different guitars. Instead, though, it showcases a dynamic that can only be brought out with fingers and heart. Was it jarring to hear the delicate "In My Mind" with semi-fuzzy guitar, way too loud? At first...but it all makes sense.
fIREHOSE is playing here live for the first time in 19 years on April 10th. I'm going.