The words associated with the best metal, like loud, fast, and heavy, don’t speak to the intricacies of Mr. Bungle’s live power. Even while their muscles set off a storm of sounds with sticks, strings, and sweat, their minds reside in the eye of the hurricane. Surely because these legends are so adept at their crafts, they appeared to relax into their own precise chaos as they continued their first East Coast tour in 23 years. Flickers of bliss suffused the bone-rattling intensity of their NJ show. Mike Patton (Faith No More) was so happy flashing wide eyes and smiles at their many jumping fans, his sudden death growls and sinister vocals were extra arresting. The way guitarist Trey Spruance tore up vicious licks was even more entrancing than the movement of his long hair, which floated in the artificial wind as if he was underwater. Watching the scrupulous hands of rhythm guitarist Scott Ian (Anthrax) up close was like examining a hive of bees at work. The formidable speed metal machine behind them – nimble bassist Trevor Dunn locked into the pulse-altering drumming of Dave Lombardo (Slayer) – slammed each beat into being so rapidly, time itself seemed to conversely slow down.
All circumstances were aligned for a killer night, from Patton’s famed springy pentagram of tight braids to Mr. Bungle’s unpredictable 18-song setlist. It was trippy to see this very-super supergroup (once an eighties high school demo tape project) just a few feet and a rail away at the Wellmont Theater. Not only did this venue enable such proximity, but being in Montclair, NJ versus NYC, it drew the real-deal audience you’d want for this experience: true metalheads, either suburban enough to be chill, or passionate enough to travel a bit from the city. They were pleasantly reclusive, and the lack of pre-show small talk in this pit accurately foreshadowed zero distractions during the action. Denim-clad loners of all ages, in various stages of deodorant discovery or acceptance, stood with pocketed hands and eyes squarely focused on the stage until the performance began. When it did, they transformed, shrieking and howling like hyenas at the same deafening volume as the music. The kids on the rail who had stuffed tissues into their ears were probably glad they’d taken that last-minute precaution.
While harder moshing would have been justified, the California band smiled approvingly whenever the smoke machine haze was diluted with crowd-mellowing vapors. Although the likeliest risk within Montclair’s mini whirlpool was some elbow nudging, the venue staff remained duly alert. Several introverts embraced an endearing burst of confidence during the aggressively fun show, surfing over sporadically-supportive hands into the arms of the assiduous guards. They methodically caught them with expressions shared by cartoon firefighters who save kittens from trees. “Jersey! Hello. I like you…Joysey. The top of the fuckin’ mountain, ya know?” declared Patton, imitating the local accent with Soprano-level accuracy. Imagery from this year’s Geek Show tour remained prominent, supplying a theatrical element as the guys handled the shredding. Vintage-style photographs of ghoulish clowns wandering empty circus grounds and other freak posters were projected behind the band.
Mr. Bungle crushed nine songs from The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, eight eclectic covers, and for a mid-encore treat, “My Ass Is on Fire” (from their self-titled debut album) with the Pepto Bismol tag. The latter got the crowd raging as if they shared the titular symptom. At the start of their encore, they played a nice slow tribute to the late Paul Reubens, their take on Timi Yuro’s “Satan Never Sleeps.” The name, Mr. Bungle, after all, is derived from a puppet in the 1960 children’s educational film [Beginning Responsibility: Lunchroom Manners] that appeared in the 1981 HBO special The Pee-wee Herman Show. “This is a special one dedicated to a long-lost friend, Pee-wee Herman,” said Patton mournfully, going on to stun with his vocal range on the ballad. The same way “La Cucaracha” sneaks up on you during earlier-rager “Hypocrites,” the show ended against everyone’s wishes. It seemed like the packed Montclair venue would have happily thrashed and screamed along for another hour or more after their explosive finale of Sepultura’s “Territory.” “Great seeing everybody! See ya next tiiime,” Patton promised coolly. Grinning as they all walked off, Spruance and Ian tossed picks to the lucky hands that darted up quickly enough to catch one.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley