Tour Title: California Tour
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Abyss's Review (11/8/99, Irving Plaza, New York, NY):
OK, I've been a huge Mr. Bungle for a long time, and this is the first time I've gotten to see them live. Why? You might ask. Well it seems to have been part of an elaborate plan by the government to keep me Bungleless. Short tours, commitments with Faith No More, sold out shows (I didn't think the average consumer knew who the fuck this band was?), but nothing was stopping me this time. Mr. Bungle sold out two shows at NYC's Irving Plaza, and it was a religious experience. (Note: big name act Monster Magnet had two shows at Irving Plaza about 6 months earlier, during the height of their MTV popularity, in (basically) their hometown, and were unable to sell-out either show.) Until this point I had always thought that Faith No More was the best live act I've ever seen, but even their majesty is lacking in comparison to the animal that is Mr. Bungle. A combination of amazing musicianship, ravenous fans, and unrivaled stage presence (especially, but not solely because of, Mr. Patton) was added to an amazing setlist that almost made me forget about the hour and a half of Indian music/poetry torture that preceded the band. Mike Patton is, in my opinion, the best vocalist in any band, in any genre. And make no mistake; this band is Patton's baby. Everyone in the band is very talented, and their contributions are evident, but in a live setting, all eyes are on Mike. And is Mike ambitious. It's hard to believe that such sounds can be pulled off live. The lounge-like crooning, the grindcore-influenced screaming, and everything in between was the most memorable part of this show. No other frontman that I have seen, or even heard about, has used his voice in such a way as to make it an instrument. In a live setting, he is often using 3 microphones at once, and, unbelievably, recreating the intricate sounds that are on the albums with astounding accuracy. Trey's guitar prowess is also well evidenced in their live work, as time and time again I have to ask myself if he ever took guitar lessons, or is he just re-defining the instrument every time he picks it up. But most of you, the metalheads, must be asking, "I heard the last Bungle album, are you actually trying to tell me this is metal?" Good point. The last album is amazing (5 out of 5 if I had had the opportunity to review it in these pages) but there is no argument around that can call it metal. However, in a live setting, I'm pleased to report, the new songs are much harder, incorporating a thicker guitar sound, sprinkled with deep throated vocals not evident on their most recent release. The setlist of this show was the real killer. All but a few tracks from California were played, but aside from that, highlights included: "Desert Search for Techno Allah" (from their best album, Disco Volante), crowd-favorite, "Travolta," and a tripped-out new version of "My Ass is on Fire." Quite possibly the best show I've ever seen.
"Quite possibly the best show I've ever seen."
Death's Review (11/8/99, Irving Plaza, New York, NY):
There are three irrefutable truths about the music of Mike Patton: (1) it's dynamic; (2) it's eclectic; and (3) it will always exhibit at least a few moments of inspired greatness. Otherwise, all bets are off. And when I spent last Monday night at the sold-out, first of two nights at New York's Irving Plaza for the event known as "An evening with Mr. Bungle," part of the fun was that I never knew what was going to be behind door number two.
I, like many others, came to Mr. Bungle by way of Faith No More. And, truth be told, while I purchased and enjoyed the first record oh so many years ago, I bypassed Disco Volante. Perhaps one day I will remedy that oversight, but as yet I haven't been inspired to get it. By the time the most recent California rolled around, I was in the mood for something adventurous and new. So I checked it out. And, while sure, it's kinda cool in a wierd little sort of way, I got bored of its Pattonized rockabilly/surf stylings rather quickly.
"A two-set show with no opening act from anyone is always intriguing."
But when it came to the live opportunity, I was all for it. A two-set show with no opening act from anyone is always intriguing -- it shows a willingness to eschew conventionally commercial "tour packaging" and instead deliver a night of fun and indulgence to the band's hardcore fans. And believe me friends, INDULGENCE was clearly the order of the evening.
Surprisingly, I arrived at the venue quite early. My mistake. While I enjoyed the fine company of my friends who joined us for the evening, the middle eastern-style, doorbell ringing cacaphony of sound which played incessently for almost an hour prior to showtime quickly became downright maddening. Oh well, I thought to myself -- I guess we're gonna have to work for it.
And if I was to summarize the Mr. Bungle live experience in any succinct fashion it would be exactly that: Patton makes you work for it. There were six to eight moments of pure musical genius scattered throughout the evening. If those moments had been condensed into a tight, thirty minute set, this might have been one of the greatest concerts of my life. Yes folks, at times, it was that good.
"I didn't come to see a rockabilly, bluegrass, swing combo do Lauryn Hill covers."
But in between these moments were several excrutiatingly boring and perhaps even sonically annoying and meandering little ditties that seemed to go nowhere and stay there for extended periods. At its worst, Mr. Bungle sounded like Patton toying with a Casio keyboard and tinkering with every drumbeat on the thing: salsa, swing, surf, etc. I didn't come to see a rockabilly, bluegrass, swing combo do Lauryn Hill covers. I didn't come to see guys in Hawaiian shirts sound like the B-52s fronted by Brian Setzer doing Elvis tunes and playing for a swing dance party. I came to see Mike freakin' Patton do his thing. What's so wrong with the rock songs, Mikey? Too boring for 'ya? "THIS is better than Faith No More?" was the question which came to mind too often during the show to be completely ignored.
But don't get me wrong. I applaud a little musical experimentation. I am on board with adventurousness, and support Mr. Patton's need to spread his wings and fly a little outside of the restrictions of the rock mold. But, to my mind, that's what Faith No More did in its finest hours. And too many times, this concert left me wanting to run screaming for Album of the Year.
However, at each point where I was just about ready to give up on this one, something magical would happen. Whenever the band brought it all together to deliver an actual ROCK song, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, it was absolutely brilliant. Whether it was "Travolta" from the first record, or tracks like "Sweet Charity," "Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy," or the amazing "Goodbye Sober Day" from California (all three MUCH better live than on record), or even Patton screaming death metal vocals through a CB mic on a punk cover, when he was ON, he was amazing. Utterly amazing.
"Mr. Bungle is pretty much always amazing, at least when they want to be."
What this tells me is that Mr. Bungle is pretty much always amazing, at least when they want to be. It's just that it's only when their eclecticism moves toward my tastes that I am most interested. Particularly revealing is the fact that my favorite moments are those that sounded the most like Faith No More. God, I miss that band.
So how do I rate the show? There seriously were times when I wanted it to end, or at least the song they were currently playing. Most often these took place when the mix had the high frequencies so piercingly loud that the fillings in my teeth hurt. But because I support the unpredictable nature of the two set bill, because I was genuinely moved on multiple occasions, because this was truly an experience, something different, even for as jaded a concert goer as myself, but mostly because Mike Patton genuinely deserves it, I reach into my bag of severed heads and pull out a generous four skulls for Mr. Bungle and their silly bit of concert mayhem. I guess when all is said and done, I wouldn't change a thing.
Hel's Review (11/8/99, Irving Plaza, New York, NY):
My very first live Mr. Bungle experience. We all know Mike Patton is really the only reason for a metalhead to be interested in Mr. Bungle. That's the reason I've kept an ear on Bungle since it was just Mike's side project. I've always appreciated the experimental aspect of this project and recently enjoyed the psychadelic surf music on California. While it lasted, Faith No More was an amazing band and Mike made seeing them live electric. So I was curious what a live Bungle show would be like.
At a club (not to mention other places), being short sucks. It's frequently hard to see the band onstage without somehow scoring a great spot. Unfortunately, Irving Plaza, while it is one of the best venues in NYC, has a severe shortage of good spots from which a short person can get an unobstructed view. Particularly when it is sold out, as it was on Monday. This is the second sold out show Mr. Bungle has played in New York in the last three months, the first sell-out was a total surprise to me and resulted in my missing it. Consequently, I'm curious about another thing - who's buying all these tickets?
"At a club, being short sucks."
Well, I started trying to figure that out when I got there, about 2 hours before the band went on. Tipped off to the fact it was an "evening with Mr. Bungle" - translation, no opener - we got there before the doors opened. And now I vividly recall why that hasn't happened since I was 12. At any rate, that should have given me plenty of time to figure out the answer to my question. But it didn't.
I saw a smattering of metalheads wearing their Slayer shirts and whatnot. I saw few other such allegiances. There were tons of people wearing black, but that's just the New Yorker dress code. More guys with disheveled hair than I've seen in one room since 8am classes in college. And an overwhelming amount of flannel. Who are these people? My best guess is that they're would-be Phishheads that can't hack the stench.
Bungle did two entertaining sets and played a mixture of songs from all 3 albums, as well as a couple of obscure cover songs. Apparently, there were two drum sets, although I could only see one, I'm short - remember? No palm tree staging as I was told the last staging boasted, but all the guys were still dressed like they were on their way to a beach party. Outstanding performances by everyone and Patton was at his psycho-finest. Definitely an entertaining show.
"Outstanding performances by everyone and Patton was at his psycho-finest."
The downsides were: the CRAPPY pre-show and between set music (the most sleep-inducing Indian music - after 2 hours I was totally craving Indian food) and the poor sound quality. Now, I know that there are frequencies of sound that Bungle utilizes that most bands never get near, but that doesn't mean I have to be deaf at end of the night. I've gone to the loudest metal shows, stood right in front of the speakers, and not had either of my ears hurt the next day like my left one did after standing at the rear of Irving Plaza. My advice to whomever was responsible: lay off the high-end, especially the keyboards, and remember that your goal is BALANCE.
Too bad, because this show would have certainly earned a better rating otherwise.
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