Mike Watt's show at the Ottobar a couple weekends ago came right around the halfway point of his current tour promoting Hyphenated-Man, his fourth solo album. But the date of the show, April 1st, was especially significant for being the 53rd birthday of D. Boon, Watt's bandmate in the legendary '80s punk band the Minutemen who died in a van crash at the age of 27. D. Boon's memory has always loomed large over Watt's solo career, particularly Hyphenated-Man, which he wrote on Boon's old guitar and echoes the Minutemen tradition of dozens of minute-long songs crammed into one record. Even Watt's band for this album and tour are a Minutemen-esque power trio christened the Missingmen.
Like 1997's Contemplating The Engine Room and 2004's The Secondman's Middle Stand, Watt conceived Hyphenated-Man as a "punk rock opera," to be played as one continuous piece. So his entire set on Friday night was pretty much the whole album in its original running order, one into the next so seamlessly that the audience would often burst out in brief applause before realizing that, oh, Watt's already singing another song. The album is relentless to the point of being almost wearying, but the energy and physicality of Watt and his bandmates made his suite of songs inspired by Hieronymous Bosch paintings come alive as not just an intellectual exercise but a kickass punk rock show. Watt speaks in his own idiosyncratic vernacular that's impossible not to think in while watching his performance and inimitable physical presence: he doesn't play his instrument, he "works the bass," which he also calls a "thunder broom."
Guitarist Tom Watson, Watt's most frequent sideman on solo tours for over a decade, rose the occasion of his first studio collaboration with the bassist on Hyphenated-Man, and throughout Friday's set he proved a versatile foil. But the real engine of the Missingmen is drummer Raul Morales, a native of Watt's hometown of San Pedro, California with incredible power and stamina who blitzed his way through the mostly uptempo material but was able to stop on a dime and pull back for the occasional quiet moment. Appropriate to its title, "Stuffed-in-the-drum-man" was a showcase moment for Morales, as he switched between pummeling tom-tom rhythms and a halting snare drum cadence.
After the Missingmen finished the marathon Hyphenated-Man performance and took a brief break, they returned to the stage for an encore comprised mostly of Watson on lead vocals for several Minutemen songs, including "Toadies" and "Anxious Mo-Fo." Watt only sang a couple times on Minutemen tunes, once piping up on "The Glory of Man" when Watson forgot a few words, and then on "One Reporter's Opinion." The latter's lyrics are explicitly about Mike Watt, and the bassist, who'd been limping on a bad knee and wearing a brace on his leg over his jeans, pointed at the knee while hollering the lines "in his joints he feels life" and "pain is the toughest riddle." When the Missingmen finally reeled to a stop, Watt yelled out D. Boon's name (and, for reasons that were less clear, John Coltrane's name as well), held up a poster paying tribute to his fallen bandmate, and gave the inspirational spiel he often does at the end of shows: "Start your own band, write your own song!"