Return to San Pedro: Mike Watt’s “on and off bass” Reviewed

on and off bass
by Mike Watt
Three Rooms Press; 100 p. 

If you’ve followed the music made by Mike Watt since the late 1970s, then you understand: the man has slowly crafted his own language. Through albums by the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, as well as a string of acclaimed solo albums with the Missingmen and collaborations such as dos and Spielgusher, Watt has charted his own personal history, cited influences obscure and well-known, and coined phrases that have entered the cult-rock lexicon. Through most of this, his hometown of San Pedro has loomed large. While the news that Mike Watt had released a book of photography may seem like an odd choice, the fact that their subject is San Pedro makes it less of a shock.

In many ways, this feels like a logical extension of Watt’s music. on and off bass pairs a series of photos taken  while kayaking and cycling with excerpts from Watt’s tour journals. And it turns out that the man has a solid eye for composition — some of the photographs of cargo ships and lighthouses are rich and detailed. A few images find a frame-dominating full moon lending the scene an icy feel, while in others, a late-day sun dwarfs an industrial landscape, looking like something from the last days of the world as we know it. The text accompanying it seems designed to compliment Watt’s creative process: — there are numerous riffs on jazz and other musical influences, as well as Watt’s memories of his own early years playing in bands.

Overall, this feels concise; a good companion piece to Watt’s work as a musician. Occasionally, Watt’s fondness for images of nature tips the balance of images found here: there are, perhaps, a few too many images of pelicans and seals at rest than are absolutely necessary. But the best of these images — a small bird at rest amidst a tangle of wires, a weathered fishing boat heading out to deeper waters, a lighthouse looming above its own waving reflection — suggest a vibrant, hard-earned life. It’s notes like these that make on and off bass a satisfying package, and a solid extension of Watt’s idiosyncratic body of work.

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