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Album Review: Mike Watt – Ring Spiel Tour 95 by Brian McConville

Album Review: Mike Watt – Ring Spiel Tour 95 by Brian McConville

It seems like 1995 was forever ago.  I was fresh out of high school and naive to the world.  There were no smart phones with cameras on them, no Facebook statuses, and people actually talked to one another in the same room.  Times were different that’s for sure, and the music scene back then was amazing.

When I heard that Legacy Recordings and Mike Watt decided to release a live show from 1995, I told myself that I just had to check it out.  Having been a young fan of Watt in Minutemen and fIREHOSE in the 90s, I became a bigger fan of him in ’95 when he released Ball-hog or Tugboat?, his debut solo album full of special guests including J. Mascis, Adam Horovitz, Dave Grohl, and Henry Rollins just to name a few.  Hell, I still have the double LP promo that Mike from Disc Den gave me when he heard how much I loved the album.

In support of that new release, Watt hit the road with Hovercraft and the barely known then Foo Fighters (lead by Grohl who apparently was touring for the first time since Kurt Cobain’s death).  He formed quite the impressive backing band for this tour to accompany him consisting of Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo Fighters), Pat Smear (the Germs), and William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate / Foo Fighters).  This was a once in a lifetime tour and can finally be heard on “ring spiel” tour ’95.

[Side note: I actually caught Watt live in the summer of ’95 when he opened up for Primus at Nautica in Cleveland.  I do not recall him having any of the heavy-hitting musicians as his backup band there, but I still have a scar on my left thumb due to someone’s Dr. Martins making contact to a barrier with my thumb in the way.  Concert war wounds are the best.]

Recorded live at The Metro in Chicago on May 6th, 1995, Watt’s live show was beyond amazing to listen to and brought me back 20 years to my youth.  One could only imagine being at the Metro in person seeing the energy that came from Watt and his special crew taking turns playing behind the legendary bassist.

Having never heard about this live show before, it was insane to hear Watt start the set off with a Daniel Johnson cover of “Walking The Cow”.  As someone who has found appreciation in Johnson material over the last 10 years, I know I probably would have been clueless about this track had I seen it played in front of me at this show.

It only made sense for Watt to play his rendition of Chip and Tony Kinman’s (Rank & File) “Big Train” seeing how it was the first single off of Ball-Hog.  At first, the crowd really did not seem into it, but that soon changed.

“Against the 70s” was a straight up jam with Watt and Vedder singing hard.  Perhaps more toned down on Vedder’s part over the studio version, I actually liked this live version better.

“Drove Up from Pedro” deserves to be heard especially if you were too young too have seen a show in the 90s.  This track alone brought back so many memories and it was all in thanks to the crowd.  They absorbed the sounds when needed, and then just belted out their approval.

After playing fIREHOSE’s “Makin’ the Freeway”, Watt took a moment to ask the crown to chill out on the crowdsurfing by saying: “You like those people rolling all over your heads?  Why don’t we give it a break.”  Classic.

“Forever…One Reporter’s Opinion” had Pat Smear offering vocals alongside Watt.  The song was just nuts and you could feel the venue explode at the end.

The cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and The Black” was one of the best songs I heard on this set.  I loved his take on the song , especially the ending.

Another excellent cover was of a Madonna song, “Secret Garden”.  The best part was that just hearing Smear sing.  Was this a joke?  I think only the performers will know.  Regardless of their intentions, it was a fun listen.

fIREHOSE’s “Powerful Hankerin’” ended the show with just Watt on stage doing what he does best.  The solo playing was perfect for closing out an amazing show.  The crowd approved and so did this listener the moment after a humbled Watt said thank you and left the stage.

If you were a kid of the 90s who hit up all the cool underground shows, this album really deserves to be in your collection.  If you are someone who just likes to listen to live rock and roll, it doesn’t get any better than this.  I just with there was a full video to accompany this performance.

At least there is this:

As I was trying to search for more info on Watt’s ’95 tour, I found an online journal called “Clam Blow” Tour.  There was a pretty cool read from Watt and band mates in Cleveland.  They talked about playing Repeat The Beat Records in Brooklyn, OH.  How I missed that back then, I will never know.  Apparently CBS was even there covering the performance.  Read the entries from 7/28 and 7/29.

“ring spiel” tour ‘ 95 is available online on CD and LP as well as at your favorite local music shop.  It’s also on digital music streaming sites like Apple and Spotify.

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