Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Mike Watt’s Ring Spiel Tour drop landed on the Chicago punk mosh pit in May 1995 with restless fervor—as he told an interviewer earlier this month, “I was shitting my pants.” Watt has shredded for decades, but the release of Ring Spiel Tour ’95 reminds us when the legendary bassist went unhinged. Recorded 10 years after the passing of his childhood friend and Minutemen bandmate D. Boon, Mike Watt brought together rock n’ roll superpowers Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), William Goldsmith (Foo Fighters) and Pat Smear (Germs, Foo Fighters) to burst eardrums. The tour is a potluck, with each member bringing tracks that would later be found on their respective bands’ own albums. This live album is as careful a patchwork as a punk record with a Madonna cover can be. But Watt and his collaborators were always more than the various “alternative” labels heaped upon them by industry promoters. Ring Spiel Tour ’95 documents a rock world still reeling from the passing of Kurt Cobain, and a group of musicians who responded to mourning with a showcase of intensely vibrant experimentalism. Watt and his band tapped into the social disenchantment of a nation’s youth amidst rising murder rates, a rolled-back welfare program and urban gentrification. His deep voice revs in righteous proclamation, “I like to fuck that’s my position, magician/ And I look the way I like to screw, hey screws!,” before the guitar trio barrels into a lattice of rich riffage. Squeaking feedback telegraphs the dissonance that follows. “Against the Seventies” is a precise unrelenting rip with Watt playing engineer and critic. His bass strumming plods amidst Goldsmith’s aerial drum pattern that matches Watt hellacious vocal shrill, “It’s not reality/ It’s someone else’s inner mentality.” The song’s resolute vamp, “the kids of today should defend themselves against the ‘70s,” is still germane in a country where many youths oppose an overwhelmingly constrained worldview. Crashing polyrhythmic cymbals surround Watt’s whiplash tongue with brimstone until the shred peels back a sober twinkling guitar pluck, before leaping back into rock n roll romp. Coolly humble underneath all the noise, the front man is situated between the dissatisfied ‘70s and the changing ‘90s. At times this plays out as straightforwardly as one might imagine. The light melody of “Makin the Freeway” belies how fed up Watt seems, “Pounds, let’s say pounds is the weight of the town/ Coming down all around.” He’s committed to making, “The freeway/ Safe for the free way.” As many old heads will remind you, “punk is a mind state” that hardly reflects straight up head-banging or anarchy. But it is a break from the feeling of being rolled over, a chance to step back and make sense of chaos. Watt embodies that chaos on tracks like “Piss Bottle Man” and “Forever…One Reporter’s Opinion.” His inflection careens on these tracks so fiercely that one wonders how his vocal cords survived. At other points, Watt looks to break from pessimism by speaking to the futility of trying to figure it out. “Chinese Firedrill” is a somber stroll through the difficulty of overcoming social ills with real action. It’s been 21 years since this recording was made, so it’s a bit of a miracle that it found the light of day when it did. But the feeling of mistrust and frustration bubbling under an idyllic surface is as apt today as it was in 1995. Ring Spiel Tour is a testament not just to post-punk, but to the strength of relationships that held rock together in the ‘90s. Mike Watt answers unrest with some clearheaded frankness that only periodically falls into abstraction. The tour signaled rock’s changing sound with a reminder that with a steady hand and master musicians, the music could survive the 21st century.