There aren't a lot of guys in punk rock (or rock & roll, period) who appear to have their feet more squarely on the ground than Mike Watt, who in his own regular-guy way has been the heart, soul and conscience of the music ever since his days playing bass in the Minutemen. A musical team player who lives by the notion of "jamming econo" (living and touring frugally, with an eye on the music rather than the trappings), Watt is as likely to talk about fixing his van or recording on used tape in his interviews as he is about "stardom" or "career," so when he had a regular guy's sort of life-changing experience -- a close brush with death brought on by a massive abscess in his perineum that eventually burst -- it makes sense that he would chose to write a song cycle about it. Secondman's Middle Stand is a "rock opera" of sorts in which Watt presents a first-person account of his illness and recovery (names of the participants included) which occasionally betrays the influence of Dante's The Divine Comedy, with sickness representing the Inferno, treatment standing in for Purgatory, and the return to health as the ascent to Paradise. If this all sounds a bit grand, it doesn't play that way; Watt's craggy voice (sounding like a deeper, West Coast variation on David Thomas' vocal style) keeps this material firmly grounded at all times, as do the messy realities of tunes like "Puked to High Heaven" and "Pissbags and Tubing" and the everyday joy of "The Angels Gate" and "Pluckin', Pedalin' and Paddlin'." Watt recorded these songs with Pete Mazich on organ, Jerry Trebotic on drums, and Watt himself on "thudstaff" (that's bass guitar in Pedro-speak), and while the arrangements are typically efficient, Watt and his crew are able to conjure up a genuinely epochal sound out of this power trio, with Mazich's organ offering a broad range of tonal colors and Watt's thick bass tone sometimes doubling as a fuzzed-out guitar. Secondman's Middle Stand is a wildly idiosyncratic examination of life, death, and the bridge in between, with its sense of joy in the possibilities of second chances outweighing its very real terrors, and no one but Mike Watt could have made it -- it's harrowing, funny, and genuinely moving stuff from a true American original.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming