Australia - What The Watt Hell (Mike Watt + Gallucci = Stooges)
You know the colour of blood when it leaks from your liver? No? Real dark - almost black - and just totally fucken weird? As I'm hammering on "1969" I notice that particular shade of life-juice smearing and splashing over my drum-skins. At that moment I really start to wonder what the hell I'm doing here, playing in a band with Mike Watt.
Okay, so my liver wasn't actually bleeding, it was my hands, but my brother Jake & I are the two permanent members of our musical assembly of 3, Gallucci. We're from original convict town, Sydney. Anywayso, this is a one off gig, sorta secretish, where we're doing a set of Stooge covers to nicely coincide with Watt being out here in Australia/NZ on the thud staff for Ig+Stooges at the Big Day Out. This is how it goes down.........
I call the man the day before our show to organise the only practice & meet up we'll get before the gig. He tells me that his Gibson Eb bass got hurt on the flight and is cracked, but being repaired, so he'll be playing my bass.
My brother & I have been in super intensive practice mode for the last month doing 10hrs + a day after recording finished on our new album at Christmas. It's been a total change of headspace going from playing 75-second tunes to 7.5 minute jams, but we're ready as we'll ever be. Watt greets me with a bear hug as I pick him at the hotel, and we take the ride back to practice. He talks constantly and intensely, we discuss the virtues of Ford Falcons (the car we're in) and their heritage links to all things Henry Ford - including the Econoline Van - which has been Watt's 'boat' (tour vehicle) for the last 20 or so years.
The prac goes well, he gets comfy with the bass rig, saying: "it's not my little Eb, but a poor carpenter blames his tools". One of his many self-reminding econo-phrases. We are working hard to keep up with the man, his playing is amazing, especially to hear coming out of your own damn instrument! He pushes us to "let loose, don't be too hung up on the albums." And to keep our eyes locked on him. Fine advice, indeed.
We spring a surprise, and start playing "Against The 70's" from his '94 solo, 'Ball-hog Or Tugboat'. Though it brings a smile to his face, he says he hasn't played it in 10 years, and barely remembers the tune, so maybe it's not a great one for a show the next day. There are a few moments of frustration from Watt, but we nut it out, & overall it's a very exciting vibe. We realise we're at the point where it's already decided how the gig will go, so just roll with the punches, make it great.
Nonetheless we stay up till 6am going over our one non-Stooge tune, Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red & The Black", which we'd almost given up on as we'd gone for the “Tyranny & Mutations” version - which is a 4_-minute insano drum solo - and the guitar ain't much simpler. But Watt shows us the way to do it with a real simple, fast, two-step, vibe. He's played this tune with every band he's ever been in since him & D. Boon were boys, so we don't want to break that record.
I was warned by my pal Keith, who did the Minutemen doco “We Jam Econo”, that Watt can be intimidating at times, not that he really means to be. And it was interesting how that plays out. He knows he's done 53+ tours, he knows he is in total command of his instrument, he knows how things are supposed to roll, he knows he's the captain of the ship...........and rightly so. But for Jake & I, we also know we've worked as hard as we possibly can to prepare, so whether we totally fucking suck or we kick ass, we're at the top of where we can be on that day. So, we just concentrate on the job at hand and remember Watt is human too & is not impervious to mistakes himself.........
He tells us that Steve Mackay (who played sax on “Funhouse”) might come and play at the gig, whoa. Scott Asheton wants to come too - plus Flea is even in town and might come for a looksee.... What a trip. So the band is going to be Watt on bass and spiel, Steve on tenor sax, Jake on the 6-string & myself whacking tubs. The band ages are 48, 56, 17 & 21. Real super-inter-generational like.
Anyway, we dump him back at the hotel, and as he bails he somehow drops everything out of his pockets & under the car, then kind of does this thing like a blind person would, touching the car glass to say goodbye, it's hilarious to say the least. Farewell till gig-time.
For some dumbass reason I am also the person organising this whole deal too, so most of the day is filled getting the pad ready for the gig. I've managed to talk this Mexican restaurant with great tequila, Cafe Pacifico, into clearing their tables for the night and letting us put on the show - a very one off thing. So it should make sure it's a super rare event in every sense. Plus the colours and regalia can't be beaten to make for warm and vibey atmospheres. The phones have been going nuts there all week, a little too nuts, so we take a stance of no? There's no gig? We don't know where everyone is getting this? It seems like all of Sydney is coming.
At 7pm I head to the hotel to pickup Watt. On the drive back I look into the rear-vision to see Mike Watt, Steve Mackay, Scott Asheton, Eric (Stooges tourman) & Chris (Stooges tech). The topic is once again the ups and downs of Henry Ford's creations, and they all argue till the moment we get to Pacifico.
We set about the extensive warming up and stretching process as people roll in. I'm sitting next to Watt as fans come up and really give him the total star-studded 20 questions – like:
"On the so & so album you did a version of Minutemen song X but the lyrics were put in the sleeve of so & so fIREHOSE EP 2 years later etc, etc, etc. Why is that?"
Watt handle's all this with the most gracious vibes, he's super appreciative and accommodating to anyone who wants to talk. But it's strange watching people wig out on his presence.
We've planned to just yell the tunes at each other and then go for it, no specific set-list, but Watt obviously starts to ponder, and creates a roadmap in his head. He spells out the first few songs to me and says: "tell your brother". No sweat. 5-mins later, Jake comes to me with about 3 more to add to the list in specific order. At that point I tell Jake: "stay away from Watt, or we'll have to remember the whole damn set list!!" We both laugh hard and realise how nuts, and amazing this whole thing is.
Pacifico is now seriously packed, literally people in the actual rafters, you can feel the tension and excitement growing as play time nears, the room is hot and there are people right in our faces, not 5cm is between band and crowd. Of course there's no backstage or sidestage or any shit like that, so you're right in it, and you know exactly where everything's at in the room. Our band's main ethos is "we don't play a stage". So of course there's just cold hard ground to greet us, no lights or bullshit, just a room with a band & humans. It feels good, hell, intimate and intense. Just the way it should be.
The four of us move into position, the time has come. Jake starts us off with "Real Cool Time's" guitar drone, followed by the snare thing that brings in the whole band. This fill is probably the hardest I've ever hit a drum, I know this is it and it's crunch time, so I'm gonna go for it with all the hellfire I've got. We pump through the tunes, "Real Cool Time", "T.V.Eye”, "Not Right" & "Down On The Street" - each with full blowout solo from Watt, Steve & Jake, one by one. I just try to hold on to my sticks and keep things intense & solid as the sweat pours off me from the raindance goin' on. “T.V.Eye” especially feels good and really seems to throb. Steve takes to kneeling down and watching Jake's guitar solo's intensely. It's an amazing sight. Both Watt & Steve's solo's are just insane, Watt attacks the bass with a fire so intense I could easily envisage the neck of the bass shattering like glass. The people at the front are getting covered in spit and sweat as vocals are screamed and riffs are boomed, but almost everyone in the crowd has either an ear-to-ear grin or looks like they've seen a ghost. The crowd is so close to Jake they keep knocking his tuner and leads, which is surprising considering he's whipping his Samson style hair all over the place, and wielding the guitar like a weapon.
This is awesome. More songs, "1969", "1970", "Dog" & "Fun House", with Fun House breaking down to a near whisper in the middle section on Watt's command. All the while I'm bleeding all over the place, which only motivates me to hit harder, I'm sure they can do a transfusion if worst comes to worst. Do I even know my blood type? No? Oh well.
At this point the heavens speak their mind, and something in the bass rig goes down, Watt goes through the process of turning every knob he can find, and we manage to get it moving again. So we lay down our last tune "Loose". Watt thanks the crowd and us for getting this all together, but before bidding au revoir, he screams the econo-warcry: "START YOUR OWN BAND!!!!!" To finish the show with a super blast of Wattage!
We convene for some very smiley & sweaty photos and chat to people who really seem just stoked at what they've witnessed. I talk to Scotty, who thankfully gives my lame ass drumming some kind thumbs up. Respecto. Everyone hangs out and drinks tequila, Watt getting behind the bar at one point and pouring shots for people, priceless. Steve & Jake chain-smoke cigarette after cigarette, while we talk into the night about his younger days, the “Funhouse” era, his sax (he's played the same one since the sixties), the Violent Femmes & Dave Alexander (original Stooge bassist). The last of which really brings up a frog in his throat. I very much got the feeling I was talking to a guy who had seen a lot of his friends die from the halcyon days of punk rock heroin. Pretty strange.
Watt disappears without a hoot or holler, no goodbyes, just gone, no rock & roll shinanegans just totally wasted after a nitro powered gig. Later we get an email:
I'm sorry I had to bail that night of the gig without a goodbye cuz Scotty really needed to get back the hotel - I'm very sorry and didn't mean to hurt any feelings cuz you and your bro Jake were just the best, truth is I went straight back to the hotel with Scotty and konked on my deck immediately - you wrung me out much with that gig!
You're a good man, brother.
This is real cool for us, it's great to know he felt good about it.
It was truly an honour to play with guys like this, a real mind blower and eye opener for youngens like us. We've always practiced 7-days a week, but we now practice 8 and our work ethic and determination is only further cemented.
Mike Watt of San Pedro, California, is an insanely intense and insightful man. Funny & quirky, as generous as he is intimidating, wise & brilliant, though somehow clumsy too. A real human being with an unbelievable talent. As honest and as true to himself as anyone you could hope to meet in a world irrevocably stained by bullshit. The kind of guy you just want to listen to and soak up as much as you can. I can only be thankful and try to post-earn the fact that I had the chance to play and spend some time with the man. Much respecto.
Timothy Benito Nicastri (Gallucci) – tMx 24 – 03/06