Pastel pink skies of a Highway 1 sunset were settling into the horizon as I pulled off into the small coastal town of Pacifica at the prospect of seeing Mike Watt slap bass live on tour as mssv (Main Steam Stop Valve) with fellow music legends Stephen Hodges and Mike Baggetta. The scene was set, the vibes were high, and it was going to take a lot more than a drippy burrito to sour my mood.
Winter’s Tavern sits nestled on the street corner 2 blocks from the high tide and ocean spray. Unsuspecting from the outside, the place is covered from ceiling to floor in stickers, a patchwork of pop culture paraphernalia, and other odds and ends. I felt right at home feeding quarters into the Black Lagoon pinball machine waiting for the show to start.
Local band Vindula started the show off strong with an experimental rock set (their first performance as a band!). The four band members looked like a gaggle of the most unlikely friends, but each contributed something unique to their set. Two ladies at the front kept the energy up enough for the entire tavern, kicking, jumping, and pumping their arms along with the heavy guitar chords.
I was surprised to see a man from the burrito joint I went to before the show take the stage next to perform as Kurva with his other band mates. Strong lead guitar got the place moving, funky bass lines got the place grooving, and rich drum kicks kept everyone’s head bopping along to the sweet psychedelic funk rock digs. Since releasing their first album this year, I’m excited to keep following this band and see what else they’ve got up their sleeve.
The crowd – at this point a mix of folks with patched, safety pinned jean jackets and old punk heads who left their own vintage jackets at home – gathered closer and closer to the stage with high anticipation. Almost as soon as Watt walked in the front door and took off his yellow jacket and bucket hat, the band started up.
The aggregate of Watt’s steady, repetitive bass lines, lofty and distorted guitar licks from Baggetta, and Hodges holding it down with versatile drumming (also something like a pocket synth? I’m not entirely sure what that piece of equipment was called) created an experimental edge to the instrumental music that was so lyrical, rhapsodic, and passionate. While I was familiar with Watt’s other music projects as a renowned bassist, I hadn’t listened to mssv’s music before attending the show but quickly became aware that I was amid an extremely talented, legendary trio playing in a dim dive bar. Hodges took center stage on drums and performed extensive solos throughout their set, pulling out metal chains at one point to rattle against the snare. Baggetta served as the band’s maestro, counting everyone in with the accompanied dreamy electronic loops. While the troop played songs mostly from their 2020 self-titled album, Watt treated us to a tune he wrote for Minutemen as an encore piece. The dive bar chatter in the back did not do the song justice, but the crowd was overjoyed nonetheless.
That midnight drive back to Santa Cruz, the feeling of pure gratitude kept washing over me. How lucky I was to have seen the flyer for the show the night before, to have witnessed such talented musicians performing because it’s what they love to do, and to have experienced one of my favorite musicians of all time perform LIVE.