Vinyl Vlog 282

Vinyl Vlog 282

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the 2LP edition of Ring Spiel ’95 by Mike Watt.

As many Ground Control readers are already aware, we have a particular affinity for vinyl records. The sound of them is (obviously) a very big part of that, but the medium’s ability to draw out different aspects of the music contained on it can change the listening experience too; because vinyl has a few more limitations than other media on which music is stored, a savvy artist can use those limitations and create a unique kind of experience that they might not have considered before.A good example of that kind of change can be found on Mike Watt’s Ring Spiel ’95 2LP set which was released earlier this year; between the four sides of the vinyl release, a sort of dramatic progression which might not have necessarily been considered either when the show was being drawn up (set lists constructed, et c.) or when it was released on CD comes to light and really makes for a fantastic experience; there is an “opening breakthrough,” a “hard, power drive,” a “flashback and a “climax,” and the listening experience is exhilarating. It’s surprising how it all comes together.

The A-side opens smoothly and almost serenely as “Walking The Cow” opens the set, settles in and soothes listeners. Watt’s bass doesn’t ring quite as stringy as it does now in 2017 (equipment changes have inspired a more sinewy presentation from Watt), but it’s not as deep and muddy as many bass players are in the twenty-first century either. Here, Watt just rolls along with the help of Dave Grohl (who played drums on this tour) and the deliberately laidback guitar sound that Eddie Vedder adds, and the results are free, easy, relaxing and relaxed; and when listeners hear the moment when Watt asks if he should “even care,” they’ll just melt with him into the tight and rolling but lugubrious rhythm.

With listeners primed, the A-side picks up steam quickly and hits with “Big Train” and its’ big, driving bass next. There, the entire band hits listeners like they’ve just been holding back, waiting for the time to be right; Vedder’s squealing guitar, Watt’s big bass and Grohl’s drums all ring through like the second coming of alternative rock (which, I guess, would have technically been right from a timing standpoint) and just hold listeners amazed. There simply is no comparison to how it sounds on vinyl on any other format and it will cause pulses to rise spontaneously between the call and response that Watt and Vedder offer here – the sensation is just unbelievable. After that, a “Formal Introduction” rages a touch rudderlessly for a couple of minutes in a manner which remains in-keeping with the “With Teeth” delivery of “Big Train,” but the group really peaks with the lean but earnest and frenetic take of “Against The 70’s” which closes the side. There, the energy just explodes and everyone on stage just goes for broke; Watt plays the power generator and force the volume and energy of the show up while Grohl erects the scaffolding which contains it and Vedder attempts to set the whole thing on fire either with his vocal accompaniment to Watt or with his guitar. Saying it that way, readers might guess that everyone is out for themselves here, but that’s not true; every note here explodes brightly because all of the players want to hit listeners so hard that they see stars. There’s no other way to characterize it accurately other than to say it’s dazzling.

As it turns out, “Against The ’70s” proves to be the perfect lead which gets listeners flipping the record over, where they find a series of barnburners in return. The B-side opens with the muscular rocker “Drove Up From Pedro” before Vedder steals the mic for a rousing rendition of “Habit” which makes the most of the song’s frenetic, punk-flavored energy. After that, Watt takes the mic back and commands the attention through “Makin’ The Freeway” and “Chinese Firedrill,” and listeners will soon find they’re completely lost within the moment-to-moment events of the album. Every time a song ends, listeners will be floored by the power of the presentation and eventually just learn to stay down because the succession is unrelenting.

The band doesn’t bother taking a breather when the procession finally reaches the album’s C-side. There, instead of slowing down, the band actually picks up and revels in running through a series of Minutemen songs with precisely all the heart they were originally recorded with intact. Here, standouts like “One Reporter’s Opinion” and “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing” don’t exactly feel like “ho-hum” covers as they do rampaging efforts to make a point; these songs were, after all, written in part by Watt and his desire to present them here as extensions of himself here is unmistakable. Again, each and every turn through each song smacks with the desire to make the audience feel for these songs the same way Watt does – passionately – and there’s no chance they won’t be believers when they have to change the side of the record again; in listening to this recording, there’s no doubt that the audience in attendance felt and were picking up what the band was putting down.

And while the final flip that listeners make to the D-side of Ring Spiel ’95 reveals a slightly shorter trip than was the case elsewhere (the A- and B-sides of this set feature four songs each while the C- features five to the D-‘s three), it is certainly not lacking in power. The band reaches a fantastic climax between “The Red and The Black” and “Secret Garden” which sees Watt’s band damn the torpedoes and just unload the last of the energy surplus they have remaining; the drums thunder through almost cathartically while Watt’s bass growls and the guitar reaches upward before finally receding ever so slightly for set-closer “Powerful Hankerin’.” In that end, everyone – those who were in attendance at The Metro on May 6, 1995, those listening to this record and the band itself – is exhausted. It’s hard to tell on the album if the show broke up as quickly as it seems to here, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that had been the case; this set comes through at an iron man’s pace.

In that end, there’s no question that the satisfaction about the vinyl presentation of Ring Spiel ’95 is palpable. After having run front-to-back with it, listeners will be heaving sighs of satisfaction when the needle finally lifts; it’s a hard run, but a good one. That isn’t to say that the CD incarnation of the set didn’t have its’ charms – it was worthwhile – but this is another beast entirely; on one hand, listeners may feel as though they just ran through four EPs in one and physically experienced the sensation of the music as though having lived it. Ring Spiel ’95 is a hard run even for listeners – but one of which those who find it will never tire. [Bill Adams]

Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine – Mike Watt – Tour Spiel ’95 – [CD Review]


Mike Watt’s Ring Spiel ’95 2LP set is out now on Legacy/Columbia/Sony Music. Buy it here on Amazon.

Comments are closed.