Born out of tragedy, fIREHOSE began after the 1985 death of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon in a car crash. Knowing there was no way to recapture Boon’s burly bluster, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley didn’t try to find someone to fill those iconoclastic shoes. Instead, they recruited another kind of dude entirely in the person of ed fROMOHIO (Ed Crawford). A more restrained presence than the raucous Boon, not to mention a prettier singer, Ed settled right into the driver’s seat on Ragin’, Full-On. This bracing LP jumps all over the map, from edgy rockers (“Choose Any Memory”) to absorbing mood pieces (“The Candle and the Flame”) to acoustic reveries (“This…”). First note to last, there’s a prickly, intangible integrity to the band that the restless Boon would have admired.
On if’n, the Hosers are more self-assured, more articulate and just as freewheeling. Ed really steps out on the propulsive “Anger,” an unnerving portrayal of rage, and “For the Singer of REM,” a devastating parody of that band. Watt gets his turn at the mic, too, delivering an amusingly disjointed rap (following Minutemen tradition, he calls it a spiel) on “Me & You, Remembering.” Unpredictable and unpretentious, fIREHOSE has the exciting aura of a group in constant evolution, willing to follow the muse in any direction whatsoever. First class. The three-track Sometimes features two songs recorded for, but not used on, if’n.
“I’m reaching out / Hear me spiel and shout,” sings Crawford at the start of fROMOHIO, fIREHOSE’s best, most accessible work. He has absorbed a bit of his bandmates’ eccentricities, and his voice has lost some of its shriller edges (both thanks, no doubt, to the trio’s constant touring). Watt and Hurley, however, seem to pull their punches a bit: “Understanding” and the acoustic instrumental “Vastopol” reek of second-string ’70s country-rock. Elsewhere, wry Watt spiels (“What Gets Heard”), jittery rockers (“Whisperin’ While Hollerin'”), jolly singalongs (“Liberty for Our Friend”), even a drum solo (“Let the Drummer Have Some”) combine for an album that feels like hanging out with your best friends, shootin’ the breeze and feelin’ pretty good.
Flyin’ the Flannel reinstates some of the aggro in the form of Watt’s hometown tribute “O’er the Town of Pedro” as well as fractious meanderings like “Tien an Man Dream Again.” The trio even scored an unlikely hit of sorts with a subdued cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Walking the Cow.” The seven-song Live Totem Pole captures the band in a habitat much more natural than the studio (LA’s Palomino, August ’91), and fIREHOSE makes the most of the adrenaline rush, delivering solid versions of Public Enemy’s “Sophisticated Bitch,” Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker” and Blue Öyster Cult’s “The Red and the Black,” a Minutemen perennial. Produced by J Mascis, the tired-sounding Mr. Machinery Operator is best forgotten.
Watt and Hurley teamed up with avant-garde fave Elliott Sharp for the Bootstrappers. While the rhythm dudes pound away with their usual muscular zest on the self-titled studio debut, Sharp tears Hendrixy (and stranger) noises from the guitar (and bass clarinet). No real songs, just lots of jarring sonics.