Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Valentine to Dos

Dos as in “two,” a band of two basses consisting of Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Kira Roessler (Black Flag): two punk legends, former lovebirds, now just good friends. Bass friends. It’s a small music, origins stained with grief, and maybe a kind of romance too. Their “Intense Song for Madonna” will haunt you, crawl into the space behind your neck and hunker down there, panting softly.

End of 1985, Kira, trying to lure a despondent Watt out of his grief over friend and bandmate D. Boon’s death, suggested they simply play their basses. Just play, that’s all. Create some 4-track demos out of the loss. The first two releases, both on New Alliance records – 1986’s self-titled LP and 1989’s EP Numero Dos -- were nestled in the midst of Watt’s tenure with fIREHOSE. A second full-length, Justamente Tres (Kill Rock Stars), came later, in 1996. On each there are covers, instrumentals, ultra-minimal sketches and some fleshed out songs (a few later adapted for the full drum/bass/guitar/vox treatment by fIREHOSE). Ever wistful, evocative in its limited scope, Dos revisits a lonely terrain, lodged in a sentimental dream (a “Dream of San Pedro”). Kira brings the bounce and some buoyant, nearly over-enunciated vocal stylings. Watt brings the gravity. Always alluring apart, their two approaches mesh irresistibly.

The first time I saw Dos it was one of the first gigs after a long absence (Watt has several other bands all going at the same time). Kira was wearing a sarong with sea turtles on it. Since then I’ve seen them about 10 or 12 times, all in the Los Angeles area. You begin to learn the drill. Watt takes approx. 4 minutes to set up. He can be gruff if approached. Kira’s husband waits in the car with her little Bichon Frise after the gig. She often wraps her plucking hand to ease the lingering effects of an old injury from the Black Flag days, where -- not wanting to appear like a weakling (girl) sidelined by a torn tendon -- she played through it, sustaining permanent damage.

The more I see this band, in bars, Foreign Legion halls, clubs, coffee houses and dining establishments (they’re too low key to be anything but an opener), the more hypnotic their sound becomes. The simplicity of two basses in their unusual arrangements lures you into its thrall. Dos is more like a craft object than a band. A hand-stitched keepsake made of felt. Soft, you can pet it and it’s small enough to be yours alone.

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