I last saw fIREHOSE in 1991 or 1992 at the Sun Club in Tempe. This trio was one of the hardest working bands in rock and roll, tirelessly traveling from town to town delivering some of the most incendiary sets any music fan would ever have the pleasure of seeing. Their work ethic was unparalleled in the music industry as the members loaded and unloaded their own gear, booked their own shows and sold their own merchandise. Watching Mike Watt stand on the stage at the Sun Club selling tour shirts and yelling at the Sun Club security, “I’m selling shirts!” was awesome. When they broke up I was bummed but also grateful I had seen them multiple times.
Therefore, when the announcement came early this year that the band was reuniting, playing both weekends of Coachella but more important, playing a show in Phoenix during the week in between the festival weekends I nearly ____ myself. No joke. This was an essential show and the fact it sold out tells me many others felt the same way.
True, I know many people came to see the headliner M. Ward. I planned on seeing him perform as well since I like his music and had seen him play at Coachella in 2009. The problem is he played after fIREHOSE …
You see, there are just some bands you do not play after. The Chili Peppers made that mistake when a band that had just broken out by the name of Nirvana opened for them at the ASU Activity Center years ago. Pearl Jam was the first opener, so for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to follow a Ten-era Pearl Jam and Nevermind-era Nirvana was a bad mistake. I liked the Chili Peppers back then but their concert was non-essential by the time Pearl Jam and Nirvana were done. Such was the case with M. Ward on this evening.
fIREHOSE strode onstage and did exactly what they have always done; grab their gear and launch into their first song without wasting a single moment. Once again the band was all business, onstage to do their job and do it more effectively than most bands that have ever performed together.
The fact fIREHOSE led off the set with the first song, “Brave Captain” from their debut album Ragin’ Full On blew my mind. One of my favorite tracks from the band. I moved to the far right side of the stage so I could focus on bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, one of the all-time greatest rhythm sections. For the uninitiated these two were the rhythm section for The Minutemen, one of punk’s most beloved bands in the early eighties. When singer and guitarist D. Boon was tragically killed in a van accident in 1985 Watt and Hurley initially did not plan to continue playing music. Ed Crawford, a young fan from Ohio contacted Watt and was persistent until Watt agreed to let Crawford audition as the new guitarist. Things worked out, Crawford was renamed Ed fROMOHIO and fIREHOSE was born.
“Brave Captain” took the elements present in Minutemen tracks and added an even greater pop aesthetic, creating an incredible piece of work from the band that remains one of my favorite songs today from any band. The chorus of “there are doubts, in your abilities, there’s too many blanks in your analogies” added with the intense crunch of Watt’s bass created an amazing moment in music. Hearing that song delivered live again right off the bat 20 or 21 years since I last saw fIREHOSE play was completely awe-inspiring.
As if it was not enough to lead off the set with “Brave Captain” the band pulled out two more tracks from Ragin’ Full On to continue the beginning of the set. I believe one was “Choose Any Memory”, I know the other was the pulverizing “Chemical Wire” with its trademark line “you fucking pay for desire!” The show could have ended after just three songs, I was already overwhelmed.
However, this was fIREHOSE and there is no such thing as not giving the fans what they want when they perform. The band whipped through songs from their entire catalog of punk, funk, rock and jazz informed music. Ed fROMOHIO was an engaging frontman as always, thanking the crowd in between songs and attacking his guitar with controlled fury. He still has a great voice that is the perfect complement for the rhythm section.
That rhythm section is what made and makes fIREHOSE the awesome force they are. I wanted to be on the side of the stage where Watt and Hurley were just so I could watch their interplay off each other. The two of them were so locked into one another it was incredible, each making sure that the flow of the song was perfect. George Hurley attacked his drum kit with complete ease, awesome to watch since it appears he was not even working hard. He’s that good folks; the power and precision that emanated from his skins sounded as good as ever.
NO ONE plays the bass better than Mike Watt, period. Not many bands rely on that instrument the way fIREHOSE does and Watt once again proved the bass is a dynamite weapon in the right hands. There is a reason this guy has played with the reunited Stooges and why so many artists jump at the chance today to play on his solo albums. He is an amazing musician and plays with the same intensity and punk edge that he did during the days of The Minutemen.
Highlight of the set? The furious delivery of “Down With the Bass”, a staple of this band’s set from the Flyin’ the Flannel album released in 1991. One of the band’s most punk rock infused tunes, watching Hurley demolish his drums, Crawford pummel his guitar but most of all, seeing Watt completely dominate during the song was a thing of sheer beauty. Unbelievable …
Sorry M. Ward, there was no reason for me to stay once fIREHOSE walked off the stage. I was content, happy, ecstatic and knew that no matter who performed next it would be a letdown. fIREHOSE is still the real deal. My lord, what a show!
If you missed this I don’t feel bad for you at all. Shame on you for not getting tickets from day one. What a concert!
This was not here in Phoenix, but here is a recent live clip of “Down With the Bass”. Cheers!