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Mike Watt and Il Sogno Del Marinaio

The Lexington, London
Thursday February 26 2013



Bit of a different crowd in tonight. Older, scruffier, and definitely more lumberjack shirts in evidence than you'd normally see at a London gig.

Mike Watt - him out of the Minutemen, Firehose, and umpteen other bands, currently of the Stooges, sometime collaborator with Sonic Youth - evidently has his own fanbase, and they mostly dress like they're going to a grunge party in Seattle, circa 1989.

What that crowd will make of Dogfeet is anyone's guess. Because Dogfeet aren't so much a band as an exercise in hitting things and shouting.

There's a couple of nods to conventional rock band instrumentation on stage - a bass, a guitar - but the drum kit is all floor toms, the stage lighting is a blaze into the audience's faces, and the noise is a kind of brutalist thunder, all tribal pounding and bristling attitude. It's a bit like watching The Clash and Test Dept all rolled into one gloriously unsubtle noizefest of a band.

How far Dogfeet will be able to take this stuff is anybody's guess. Will they eventually capitulate and start writing Proper Songs, with melodies and choruses and all that traditional stuff? After all, even Einsturzende Neubauten became a fairly conventional alternorock band in the end. But for now, at any rate, Dogfeet have their unrepentant blast of rhythmic aggro down to a fine art. Mike Watt - down the front, giving the band an appraising glance - seems to think so, too.

Manflu also specialise in doing unconventional things within the conventional set-up of a rock band. Sure, they've got all the regular kit - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals - but from that point forward it's irregularities all the way.

Manflu crank up their rattling clamour, all pointy guitar and rhythmic digs in the ribs. Manflu music is a squabble between prog and punk - it's got the time changes and the otherworldly, cerebral air, the detail and the tricky bits. But it's also physical, visceral, crash and bash and stomp. Certainly the vocals, veering between an assertive harrangue to sceptical disdain, lend an air of moody manners to the band, even when the songs are defiantly silly. Well, for all I know 'Gaspar Is An Onion' - a rhythmic romp like a gone-wrong Bow Wow Wow - might be a deadly serious treatise on the human condition, but it sounds defiantly silly to me.

The big climax, as ever, is 'Tek', in all its strobe-hammering, crowd-invading glory, and while those of us who have walked in the way of Manflu for a while know what's comiing, there are plenty of people here tonight who evidently don't.

The grunge-party contingent quail beneath the onslaught - but Mike Watt, still down the front, drinking it all in, seems to dig it.

But now it's time for Mike Watt to move from audience to stage. Mike Watt has many incarnations, but tonight he's one third of a trio, Il Sogno Del Marinaio, with guitarist Stefano Pilia and drummer Andrea Belfi.

The name of the band, rather whimsically, means 'The Sailor's Dream', but if that suggests some sort of twingly-twangly folkie project, hold that thought right there. In fact, Il Sogno Del Marinaio are a barreling, pedal-to-the-metal prog-jazz-punk mostly-instrumental power trio - and yes, I mentioned the J-word, if you want to make something of it.

But the band's intricate rush-and-tumble detail, the guitar all skittery and detailed, the drums a-flutter, is definitely some way beyond the boundaries of ye olde rock 'n' roll. And yet, when the three of them really crank it - which they do frequently, with great gusto - the whole thing turns into a sonic blast as fierce as anything the Stooges ever did.

Mike Watt himself, with his fearsome amp 'n' speaker stack looming over him, plays his bass with as curious kind of assertive caress - his fingers stroking the strings with a fluid delicacy that somehow has a no-shit power behind it. Sometimes he bends the strings almost off his fretboard, as if they're made of a semi-liquid substance rather than plain old steel. All the while he favours the band and the audience alike with a non-stop repertoire of goofy, quizzical glances, which are a riot in themselves.

In other hands, this music might seem like a po-faced exercise in mathematics. In the hands of Mike Watt and his colleagues, it's a lot of fun. To be exact, it's pedal-to-the-metal jazz-prog-punk fun. And that's not something I'm likely to say very often.

Mike Watt


Mike Watt:

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Il Sogno Del Marinaio:

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Website | Facebook


Website | Facebook



For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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