Post-punk bass-playing legend Mike Watt has played with everybody from Sonic Youth to the Stooges, but he brought his latest band the Missingmen to Toronto, making for one of just two Canadian dates.
Up first were Greys, a Toronto four-piece featuring ex-members of Arietta, including frontman Shehzaad Jiwani who is, like his hero Dave Grohl, a drummer-turned-guitarist/vocalist. They hit the stage confidently and played a succinct, tight set of American punk -- mostly from their EP due out at the end of April -- with some detectable grunge and hardcore influences, cheeky banter and a blistering cover of Fugazi's "Public Witness Program" to boot.
The second support act was an appropriate choice for introducing a bass hero like Watt. The set from Dearly Beloved, fronted by the skillful bass craft of Rob Higgins, showed the band moving in a more garage rock direction, which might stem from the fact that they are currently recording new material in Calfornia with Eagles of Death Metal guitarist Dave Catching.
Following the opening sets, Watt ambled onto the stage, bass guitar strapped to his back. Guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales followed closely behind, wearing a uniform of plaid shirts, and launched into material from the new album Hyphenated-Man, Watt's third rock opera. Intense and energetic with a highly distinctive sound and a powerful stage presence, Watt exudes friendliness. Hearing him play, you can hear the clear influence of Captain Beefheart and also the debt owed to him by countless bands.
After a brief encore, the Missingmen re-took the stage and Watt declared, "That was a difficult piece. Respect for having an open mind and an open heart. True North Canada," before positioning himself behind the drums and treating us to a rare set of Minutemen material. Watt ended the encore by shouting "Get the hipster boot off your fucking throat and breathe!" and then chanted "John Coltrane" as a Coltrane track began to play. A suitably swinging ending from the man who put the funk into punk.
"Only 52 Saturdays a year. Thanks for sharing one with us," he said. No, thank you, Mike Watt.