Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mike Watt and the Secondmen-The Secondman's Middle Stand

It's obviously safe to say that Mike Watt's reputation and name are sterling. As the years roll along, he becomes more and more a figurehead within Post-Punk Rock circles. Watt, the man who makes it o.k. to play second-string to guitar with the bass. Watt, the man in the van, still econo after all these years. Watt, paragon of d.i.y. culture. I'm not knocking him one bit ever. The man and his music will always warrant great attention from Disaster Amnesiac. Watt is a musician's musician, and as such it's safe to say that his sounds deserves hearing, listening, and appreciation. The Secondman's Middle Stand has been getting a lot of play on my CD player of late. Perhaps I can convince any else reading this blog to give it a fresh listen.
The Secondmen on this recording are made up of Watt on bass, Pete Mazich on organ, and Jerry Trebotic on the drums. The group is augmented at times with vocals by Petra Haden.
This all- San Pedro band exhibits all of the cleverness and movement that one can expect from SST musicians in general and Watt projects in particular.
The bass and it's position within band hierarchy obviously been an constant with Mike Watt. His playing has never assumed the strictly supportive role with which the bass spot in a band has often been saddled. That's not to say that Watt's playing suffers from some kind of bass inferiority complex. It seems to me that he loves the bass, loves it's tones and timbres. On The Secondman's Middle Stand, bass is often the featured lead voice. The way in which Mike amps his sound is great: big, fuzzed-out tones feature prominently. Thankfully, he avoids the dorky "more is more" chops-heavy approach that many bass players utilize for lead voice leverage. Instead, Watt makes tasteful choices of good notes, played lyrically and melodically. His simple solution to the problem of the bass' position pays off big dividends to the listener. It's thrilling to hear his fuzzy lead voice on tunes like Beltsandedman and Puked to High Heaven.
One criticism that some folks level at Watt is a disdain for his singing voice. As for me, seeing as that I love the recorded voice of singers like Dave Thomas or Don Van Vliet, I have no qualms about it. C'mon folks, it's Rock for God's sake. Mike's lyrics are always great, too, full of Pedro vernacular and common sense wisdom. It's really populist in a way that many phonies in the music biz aspire to but, for whatever reasons or limitations, can never attain.
Along side of Mr. Watt's bass leadership, Pete Mazich's organ playing carries the tunes on Middle Stand. It's really fun to listen his driving, driven playing. He gets all kinds of great sounds from it. At times it's reminiscent of great 1960's players such as Pigpen; at others it has a smoother, 1970's sound which harks back to groups like Steppenwolf and Bloodrock. There obviously ain't a lot of folks adding organ to the post Punk musical landscape, and as such it's really refreshing to hear Mazich's sound instead of the standard six string guitar. Electric organs produce such a wonderfully colorful sound, and paired with Watt's treble-soaked bass tones, the organ voice on this record just explodes in the ears. Let's hear it for Post Punk organ trios!
Drummer Jerry Trebotic gives a killer performance. He rarely relies on stock rhythms, instead playing imaginative patterns, a kind of Jazz/Rock fusion style that gives propulsion and weight to the tunes. The closest comparison player I can think of would be G. Calvin Weston with Blood Ulmer's groups, but Trebotic puts his own stamp on the style by adding a bit more space between the notes along with a bit more of a relaxed touch. He sounds as if he divides his parts along a kind of linear "cymbals vs. drums" approach, often punctuating tom tom heavy patterns with splashy cymbal accents. It's exemplary trio drumming, as yet another outstanding drummer emerges from the SST/South Bay continuum.
As a group, Mike Watt and the Secondmen sound tight and well rehearsed. The organ trio nature of the group provides for a lot of space, and they fill it nicely; each member by turns steps up and plays support, all the while sounding mindful of the other two. I can attest to their high powered ass kicking live show: even at the pretentious Fillmore they managed keep things human-scaled and full of immediate, real physical power.
Sound wise, the Secondman's Middle Sound is mixed with clarity and precision. The spectrum sounds pretty evenly divided between the three voices. No one is buried in the mix, and it's obvious that great care was taken as far as mic'ing and tonal capture were concerned. It's mixed and mastered smooth, allowing for both high level cranking and lower level appreciation. That's some fine engineering there, boys.
The Secondman's Middle Stand is a great record that has held up tremendously well since it's release. I guess Watt has been sidelined somewhat from the group as he fills in for Dave Alexander with the Stooges, but I look forward to the day when he gets The Secondmen out of Pedro and either on the road or into the recording studio. Anyone know whether or not he's gotten his SG bass back?


Pig State Recon said...

You beat me to it, man - I'd planned an eventual post about this one, my fave of his. Your BLOODROCK comparison with the keyboardist is spot on. Have you seen the vid of "Tied a Reed"? Mike's paddling out into LA Harbor and watching Raymond Pettibon at work, it's perfect.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Doh! Sorry, Michael! I was just listening to Engine Room, and thinking how much cooler Middle Stand is. I've not seen the vid, but will Youtube it today. Sorry I bogued you, bro.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Update: just watched vid. Thanks, M. It's the proverbial shiznitt. F'in COOL.