Mike Watt, Hovercraft, Foo Fighters At The Troc

Posted: April 29, 1995

There were three acts on the bill at the Trocadero on Wednesday night worth buzzing about, and Eddie Vedder, famously tortured leader of Pearl Jam, didn't play a starring role in any of them.

But even in Vedder's superstar denial mode, there was no denying who had the crowd buzzing. First up was Hovercraft, an arty noise outfit with Vedder's wife, Beth Liebling, on bass (and Vedder in disguise). Next came the Foo Fighters, the new band fronted by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl with an album due soon on Capitol records. And headlining was Mike Watt, the punk-rock bassist whose legend is such that the biggest Rock Star of the '90s is playing guitar in his band (and sharing a seat in the van.)

On its own, that Troc lineup is no small deal. But this became the alterna- rock event of the season thanks to arena-sized Eddie. Word he might show had spread from previous tour stops, so Vedder-viewing became the crowd's main sport. But Vedder made every effort to shrink into the background for the sold-out, all-ages show.

During Hovercraft, he played drums while wearing dark glasses and a wig. For Watt, he was undisguised, but simply concentrated on his guitar and vocal duties.

Despite the circus-like atmosphere, the music reigned. Hovercraft's opening was a mildly subversive, wordless dare. With images of lemurs, rockets and flowers projected behind them, Vedder, Liebling, a second bewigged drummer and a guitarist turned out one 30-minute, well-executed, Sonic Youth-goes- ambient drone.

The Foo Fighters followed ("Hey, hey, we're the Monkees," Grohl said upon hitting the stage), and served up just the high-energy jolt the mosh-ready crowd was waiting for. With Grohl and ex-Nirvanan Pat Smear on guitars, the Foos' tightly structured sound may be too Nirvana-esque for its own good. But though Grohl needs work as frontman, he's no pretender when it comes to songwriting.

Watt came on next, with no fanfare concerning the very recognizable guy to his left. Vedder and various Foos backed Watt for an hour - the most effective lineup featured Vedder (not much of a guitarist), Watt, and the double-drum attack of Grohl and fellow-Foo William Goldsmith.

Then the bearded, graying Watt, whose powerfully versatile bass has done most of his talking through 15 years with the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, proved an able frontman. He slurred out the words to "Big Train" from his solo debut, Ball Hog or Tugboat? (Columbia), and dedicated a roaring "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing" to late Minutemen leader D. Boon.

And his now-quaking, now-jazzy bass was centerpiece of an extravaganza in which you never knew what was going to happen next.

"I hope we were able to blow your minds," Watt said in fitting conclusion. "That's what punk's all about, isn't it?"

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