In the noisy, urine-soaked hallways of rock ’n’ roll history there exist epic stories of origin — those chance encounters or strange coincidences that seem designed by fate to bring a band to the attention of the world at large the Violent Femmes discovered on a Milwaukee sidewalk by a guitarist for the Pretenders, or Kim Deal being the sole respondent to a Charles Thompson classified ad. One of the greatest of all of these is the story of fIREHOSE. It goes like this: Band ahead of its time (the Minutemen) loses soul and creative lifeblood when leader D. Boon is killed in tragic accident. Band breaks up, obsessive fan drives cross-country, finds Mike Watt’s name in the phonebook and tries to convince remaining members to continue playing music by forming new band (the fan, Ed Crawford, was mistakenly told by members of Camper Van Beethoven that Watt and George Hurley — the ex-Minutemen — were holding open auditions for a new guitarist). And thus, fIREHOSE was born.
Reuniting now for its first show in nearly 20 years (the band’s last appearance in Eugene was in 1993), fIREHOSE was among the giants of the late ‘80s college rock underground and quickly gained a reputation for being hard-working, playing nearly a thousand shows in its eight-year run. Cresting a second wave toward the shores of a rock ’n’ roll rebirth, fIREHOSE took the jazzy,winding funk-punk of the Minutemen and aged it like fine whiskey, the bite still present but ultimately going down a bit more smooth.
Alongside contemporaries like The Replacements and Sonic Youth, fIREHOSE represented the epitome of the late ‘80s college radio aesthetic, giving legions of young people a respite from the horrific machinations of mainstream ‘80s rock. For most casual fans of music it was Nirvana that slayed the big-haired beast of butt rock, but Nevermind was more like the cavalry — the final charge that delivered a decisive blow and sounded the horn, alerting the arbiters of good taste that it was safe to come out. fIREHOSE and its ilk were the infantry, slugging it out on the battlefield — Look What The Cat Dragged In was the group’s personal Helm’s Deep. If Nirvana is the Run-DMC of “alternative” rock then fIREHOSE is the Treacherous Three, laying down a foundation that to some contemporary ears may sound almost dated — though in reality was but one more ingredient in the rocket fuel that launched grunge into the stratosphere.
fIREHOSE plays 9 pm Tuesday, April 10, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door. — Mark Sullivan