Watt began on a somewhat somber note, giving a shout-out to recently-deceased rock icon Lou Reed. "It's a sad day because brother Lou died," he said before going into a rendition of The Velvet Underground's experimental epic "Sister Ray." The original recorded version of "Sister Ray" is around 17 minutes, and involves a lot of instrumental jamming and free improvisation. It's a ballsy song to open with, because extended jams are not typical of punk. My friend Landon used to like to play "Sister Ray" on the juke box at a bar in Orange, just to piss people off. But Watt's rendition was fiercely energetic, inspired and interesting. It made me think about how this musician, and how The Minutemen, were not just angry punkers, but were students of rock history, steeped in the classics, taking "punk" to new heights, helping to elevate it beyond simple rage, into art.
This Velvet Underground opener set the tone of the set, which included covers from iconic underground bands. They followed "Sister Ray" with a punked-out cover of "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" by 1970s LA band The Last, whose 1976 debut "L.A. Explosion" (released on Bomp Records) is a classic.
This was followed by Roky Erickson's song "Sweet Honey Pie" from his 1986 record Gremlins Have Pictures. Erickson was a founding member of the hugely important psychedelic garage rock band 13th Floor Elevators. There's a fantastic 2007 documentary about his life called "You're Gonna Miss Me."
Watt's set list was a personal tour through underground rock history. Next, he played two songs by art-punk band Wire: "Three Girl Rhumba" and "Ex-Lion Tamer." Wire's brand of minimalist riffs and ironic lyrics were a definite influence on The Minutemen. Check out their 1977 debut album "Pink Flag." Genius.
Guitarist Thomas Watson sang the next two songs, "Conspirator's Oath" and "Amnesty Report" which were originally written and performed by experimental lo-fi band Red Krayola, which began in the 1960s and were a big influence on punk, post-punk, and no-wave. Watson was a sometimes member of Red Krayola, whose last record came out in 2006.
These first seven songs were a kind of tribute to the forerunners of Watt and The Minutemen. It felt important to establish these roots before playing actual Minutemen songs, which dominated the second half of their set. With signature passion and humor, Watt fired through such classics as "The Glory of Man," "The Big Foist," "My Heart and the Real World," "The Politics of Time," and "The World According to Nouns." As I listened to and enjoyed the band, I scanned the faces of the crowd, an eclectic mix of punks old and new, from 20-somethings to 50-somethings. This music, I think, is timeless.
All photos by Josue Rivas.