by Mike Villano
For a guy who once described himself as a "corndog from [San] Pedro," Mike Watt's had one of the most extraordinary careers any modern-day musician can lay claim to. From his pioneering indie-rock days in the Minutemen and fIREHOSE to a mid-'90s solo career (that found such folks as Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, Frank Black and numerous other alt-rock luminaries helping him out), all the way up to his 2003-'08 stint with Detroit's own reformed Stooges, Watt has been an almost Zelig-like rock figure these past three decades. His working-class roots served him well all these years, and — more than likely — nurtured his tireless work ethic.
His latest project is a third album from Unknown Instructors, a loose conglomerate of (mainly) L.A.-based veterans, including Watt's former Minutemen and firehose cohort George Hurley and ex-Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza, with vocals provided by poet Dan McGuire, artist Raymond Pettibone and Cleveland's legendary Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas.
Given the musicians involved, it comes as no surprise that Funland offers more experimental and eclectic sounds. If you didn't know better, in fact, you might think this is a lost Captain Beefheart album, albeit without Don Van Vliet's signature deep, dark blues howl. And — lo and behold — the fourth track here just happens to be a cover of the Captain's own "Frownland." Elsewhere, McGuire's sax nicely complements Watt's prominent bass, and the vocals are uniformly excellent. In fact, you can barely tell there are three different singers herein, as their styles sound very similar, at least on this particular record.
Overall, for the more adventurous listener, there's plenty here to enjoy, and at a lean 45-minute playing time, Funland never overstays its welcome.
Mike Watt and the Unknown Instructors play Tuesday, May 12, at the Shelter at St. Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-6923.
Mike Villano writes about music for Metro Times. Send commentst to email@example.com.