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Mike Watt and the Missingmen at Auntie Annies

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ATL | 10:56 UK time, Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Mike Watt and the Missingmen, The Continuous Battle of Order
Auntie Annie’s, Belfast 
16th October, 2011

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The term ‘punk legend’ gets thrown around much too chaotically these days. The reality of the matter is you could probably count the amount of true punk legends walking the face of the earth on one hand. From his exceptional, altogether timeless work with post-punk heroes Minutemen in the Eighties to his current role within a reformed The Stooges, the brilliant and increasingly inimitable Mike Watt could take up two fingers. Tonight, the man and his band, The Missingmen, look set to confirm this opinion.

In a room equally divided between blasé hipsters and - yes - quite a few po-faced Minutemen fanboys, Belfast-based instrumental rock combo The Continuous Battle of Order steadily unleash their numerically-titled math-rock via the flurry of looped guitar lines and syncopated, jazz percussion that is ‘008’. When it arrives, it’s a wonderfully intricate noise explosion and an impressive set opener that segues into the yet more involved ‘009’, a track distilling guitarist Hornby’s complex, tapping style reminiscent of Don Caballero-era Ian Williams and Pele’s Ian Prowse.

In a six-song set that takes in forceful riffage of ‘Hoskins’ and the elaborate danceability of ‘001’, it’s clear the two-piece have a vast array of barraging loops and discordant refrains at their disposal. Just as fascinating is the band’s growing experimentalism indicative of, say, a Eugene Ionesco play or Luis Buñuel film, i.e. stopping half-way through songs for unexplained, extended silence; drummer Craig’s drum-solo coming to a sudden because he has “nothing else left to play.” In other words, if you like Hella, Samuel Beckett and John Coltrane circa Ascension, check out the band’s PTTRN SKRS.

Casually sitting at the side of the stage, Mike Watt is an imposing, yet completely amicable presence. In fact, when TCBOO’s set comes to an end via ‘006’ he wastes no time in approaching the stage to praise the band’s performance. Fifteen minutes later, Watt, guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales kick straight into what the former beamingly announces as “my third opera, Hyphenated-Man”, his most recent, 30-track, 47-minute album based on the works of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. But, despite many people’s aversion to the mere mention of “opera”, it’s a record as coolly Mike Wattesque as ever.

Starting with the energetic ‘Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man’, the Missingmen are, for all intents and purposes, natural descendents of vintage Minutemen and punk legends Nomeansno. Barely pausing between songs, their deceptively refined post-punk sees Watson give the sadly departed D. Boon a run for his money and Watt himself command his beloved bass on everything from the catching funk groove of ‘Hammering-Castle-Bird-Man’ to the somehow agreeably incongruous noise of ‘Belly-Stabbed-Man’. The crowd, though sparse, seem fully engrossed in this heroic display of ambitious, often comical lo-fidelity.

The bossanova weirdness of ‘Cherry-Head-Love-Man’ running into the spoken-word Beat of ‘Pinned-To-The-Table-Man’ is also a stand-out, the latter track exposing Watt’s baritone stylings on “loss and liberation”; a wonderfully Captain Beefheartesque ode musing seeing many of the crowd watch on in unblinking awe. Better still, even the catching slacker groove of ‘Thistle-Headed Man’ struggles to compete with the questionably-titled ‘Man-S****ing-Man’, a track evoking Slint and Melvins that forces Watt’s ferocious vocals to reach new heights. Hyphenated-Man has raised its head. The crowd are overjoyed. Cue, then, the encore.

Following ecstatic applause to lure them out once more, Watt thanks the fans, “Awnty Awnies?” and “The Consistent Battle of Order”. The banter goes down very well and with Tom Watson taking over the vocal duties and Watt assuming a behind-drummer role, an encore including first-rate covers of 'Conspirators Oath' by Red Crayola and a perfectly schizophrenic retelling of The Pop Group’s torture anthem, 'Amnesty Report', sees the three-piece merge as a unit in ways you’ll struggle to see in many of today’s upcoming punk bands.

At the end up, we’re treated to an inevitable closing dose of Minutemen goodness: the frantic groove of 'Toadies' and 'The Glory of Man' from their classic double-album, Double Nickels On The Dime, and 'Black Sheep' evoking a properly doting reception from the crowd. Indeed, following set closer ‘Anxious Mofo’ - right up their with Watt’s original band’s more familiar songs - an uncommonly extended applause serves not only to underline the status and incredible musicianship of Mike Watt himself, it also reflects a real admiration of Watson and Morales, not to mention the brilliance of Hyphenated-Man and a performance that will no doubt live long in the memory.

Brian Coney

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