February 1, 2010 | 8:30am
The Show: Never let it be said that Alex's Bar can't throw a corking soiree. For most of the performances, the place was packed. We're talking panic attack, claustrophobia-inducing, please don't let a fire break out packed. Headliners the Riverboat Gamblers brought the house down with a high octane set of furious punk anthems. Though this band treads well-mapped territory, they prove that with enough energy and a heartfelt delivery, little else matters. Drenched in sweat and racing from one corner of the stage to the other, singer Mike Wiebe called out the hooks, which were responded to by three other band members.
Having multiple backup vocalists singing simultaneously brought a sonic punch to the stage that many bands tend to leave in the studio. Throughout the nearly hour-long set, Wiebe dove multiple times into the audience, and at one point, was carried from the stage to the bar where he was met, and kissed by, a pretty blonde girl.
Although the Riverboat Gamblers crushed, the standout performance of the night was delivered by punk hero (and local resident) Mike Watt. With greying hair and wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, he looked avuncular as he set up his gear. But this man is something to behold once he starts performing. His fingers dug violently into the thick strings of his bass and ripped against the steel coils with stunning force and dexterity. As a result, the notes he produced, bent wildly and yielded vibrato in a display of controlled chaos.
With eyes closed, Watt's 52-year-old body shuddered as if a current of electricity was coursing through his bones, and his face contorted into a twisted grimace. Girls in the audience twisted and shimmied as Watt tore through the Minutemen standard "This Aint No Picnic" off 1984's Double Nickels on the Dime. Adding to the remarkable nature of the set, Watt and his bass were only backed by drums and keyboard. There were moments when organist Pete Mazich filled in the gaps left by the lack of guitar with the musical virtuosity of a jazz musician. When all was said and done, the most learned of music historians would have been challenged to find a band with an analogous sound.
Watt and Riverboat Gamblers were also joined by punk acts Throw Rag as well as bar owner Alex Hernandez's band, Werewolf.
The Crowd: There's something about Alex's Bar that draws a homegrown sort of audience. Everybody just seems a little saltier than those found at other venues. Despite being a little rough around the edges and having unlimited access to cheep booze, everybody has basic manners and douchebagery is at a minimum. The place was most packed during Watt's and Throw Rag's set, and remained crowded right up through the halfway point of Riverboat Gambler's performance. Yet despite thinning out toward the end, a dedicated core group of Riverboat fans remained, clamoring on stage and singing into any available mics during the set closer "Art of Fuck."
Overheard: When one girl mentioned she was there to see Throw Rag, another responded, "Oh my God, you're not here to see Mike Watt? He's a legend!"