Opening acts: the Melvins, Grotus
Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, will you EVER stop.
And one day after the Verlaines. Definitely had a lot of energy at that time.
And this show. THIS SHOW.
This is easily the most notorious show I’ve attended, I’m pretty sure, not because there was death or doom or stupidity or anything but because of how it all went down. I’ve talked about it plenty of times, including a blog post on here from two years ago which I’m going to quote and repost in its entirety because it’s all there anyway. But I should preface it a bit with something I haven’t talked about before much, namely how the day had already been a little surreal.
So my friend Steve M. and I were the ones going to the show. As it was down in OC, where he was from, the idea was that we were going to stop his house in Huntington Beach first because it was Passover, and a Seder was being observed that night by his family. I was actually pretty excited by this, since I knew of the Seder but had never attended one.
Steve was — and is — one for stone-faced humor. He’s a master. And he got me good that night, helped by the fact that I am often too easily bamboozled. Halfway down on the drive he made a random mention about how one needed to wear a Passover uniform. I was abashed and apologized that I didn’t realize I needed one and I hoped I would not give offense. Steve looked at me sidelong and realized that he had a golden opportunity and proceeded to spin a yarn about how the uniforms and what they were like and ‘maybe there was one at the house that could fit’ and the like. And oh did I ever fall for it, hook line and sinker.
I didn’t fully occur to me that he might have been lying until much later at his house when I noticed that his younger brother, in high school at that point, was wearing a 1000 Homo DJs T-shirt to the table. Which might not have been so outre had the image on the shirt not been one of Madonna topless.
It was a hilarious evening already — Steve’s dad, clearly bemused in an old-school West Coast Jewish American way at his three deeply sarcastic children (counting Steve’s sister as well, who gave as good as she got), led the Seder with an air that I really can only describe as the living incarnation of ‘oy vey.’ I don’t think any line from the ceremony was delivered without some sort of interruption, it was like a living MST3K skit. Steve’s mom rolled with it and, unless I miss my guess, encouraged it. There wasn’t anything fractious or mean about this, it was more like ‘oh so THIS is how this family operates.’ And it explained Steve perfectly, of course.
Good dinner, too. I was pleased to be a part of it and while I may yet attend a Seder in the future, if this is the only one I’ll ever attend then as far as I’m concerned I couldn’t have asked for better — family, food, wry commentary and the uniforms that weren’t.
And from that it was on to the show. And Steve and I had NO idea about what was about to happen. Nobody did.
The following account consists of my original writing up of this story about ten years back for a private mailing list, with input from my very good friend Mackro, who also attended the show but who I had still not met yet. (I should say that there’s plenty of things in my writing style in this piece that I cringe at a lot now, given how old it is, but there’s no point in a full rewrite.) It contains further edits thanks to a couple of lucky breaks — a few years back I got a bootleg recording of the concert from a Bungle freak, allowing me to square my memories with the record of the event (too bad there’s no video, at least to my knowledge), while a couple of years ago I had the sublimely fortunate break to interview the Melvins, who opened for Mr. Bungle that night — a crucial fact given where the evening went. Both Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover remembered the night VERY well and happily filled in some background details. This is as near a definitive story as to what I saw that night that I have, but I’m always wanting to hear more information.
Down in the sweet balm of Orange County, at the long-gone and unlamented Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, a ye olde theatre-in-the-round, Mr. Bungle announces a show, to considerable excitement in certain sectors. The lingering KNAC crowd is especially drawn to this, due to the Faith No More connection, which is about all most people have actually heard (those wondering about KNAC need know only this, that it was a station which nowadays in its online only format pretends it was all Metallica back in 1987 when in fact Ratt and Poison and so forth were its bread and butter more so than our favorite Napster-lovin’ combo — but I digress). In the meantime, feckless young innocents as myself and Mackro, though we did not know each other at the time, who actually had heard the album and loved it, considered this a Distinct Blessing, as FNM were about to fire up the Angel Dust tour and Bungle would have to disappear for a while. Off we all went.
As friend Steve and I fended our way past the leathery-faced 35-and-up permatan David Coverdale rock dude and dudette types, as well as the more understandable young semi-proto grunge/whatever crowd, we concluded that this was perhaps going to be a strange evening. (MACKRO — don’t forget the Red Hot Chili Peppers/Fishbone dorks..) Grotus was the opening band, so we settled on in as they Did Their Thing, and it was a fairly fine thing at that, industrial rock hoohah of a gone sort. Viva, etc., off they go, the Young Gods’ TV Sky plays on the monitors, and the next band sets up.
Said band are them glorious Melvins, who do their thing — which is not what the crowd came to hear. As time passes, said crowd turns ugly, as cheerful cries of “You suck!” increase in volume. The Melvins mostly laugh their asses off and keep doing what they do, finally leaving to the general crowd’s delight. (MACKRO — Joe Preston didn’t seem to care, Buzzo tried to make the songs slower and more grueling, AND AND AND Dale Crover went up to the mike after their set and said to the crowd “Mr. Bungle says fuck you”) Myself, I was new to them and didn’t know entirely what to think, but I thought most folks were being way too harsh.
As it happened, Bungle very clearly agreed with me.
[2008 EDIT — Mackro and I had heard a couple of stories about this but here’s the full skinny: as Buzz and Dale confirmed to me, Mike Patton saw how the Melvins were treated, immediately tore up the setlist for Mr. Bungle and wrote out a new one directed at the audience which read “TONIGHT THEY WILL PAY.”]
Bungle take the stage, dressed entirely in combinations of wrestling masks, Aztec outfits and other oddities — no surprise there, per se. The crowd is cheering, pumped, the pit is ready, bring it on. The band acknowledge no-one and nothing, finish setting up and launch into…
…a twenty-minute low-key jazz noodle (MACKRO — eeh wouldn’t say that… it was more of a Melvins/Earth type guitar buzz except even more minimal and grueling/MY 2008 EDIT: Mackro’s right, as the recording confirmed.). Patton wanders around the stage, apparently speaking in tongues to himself. The band then play the closest thing to a cover version of Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey” there is, only without the energy and pace. It’s…interesting, true. The crowd vaguely quiets down, then starts to get more and more impatient. Bungle, of course, ignore their feelings entirely. It gets to the point where the pit starts crowd-surfing even when there is *no* music remotely approaching pit/mosh/surf levels, which apparently increases the band’s utter contempt for the crowd. (2008 EDIT: both Buzz and Dale remembered that as well!)
After that, for the next thirty minutes or so, Bungle proceed to play one of the most fucked-up sets I’ve heard in a while. Ignoring their album entirely, they proceed to amuse themselves with some indescribable nonsense, interspersed with equally indescribable cover versions. Thus, we are entertained at points by a cover of Tom Jones’ Bond theme “Thunderball,” sung by Patton in a strangled roar (2008 EDIT: Dale remembers that there were a bunch of older ladies in the audience, which is where he must have been watching the show and laughing at the festivities; he had no idea why they were there — ‘must have been somebody’s moms or something’ — but that when “Thunderball” started they all got excited and went “Tom Jones!”), and that one Alan Parsons Project song that goes, “Time…keeps flowing like a river…to the sea…,” except Bungle turned up the amps and Patton practically yells out, “TIME…KEEPS FLOWING LIKE A RIVERRRRR…TO *THE SEA!!!*”… (MACKRO — they also did a song without any instruments, just this Negativland-ish sample loopy thing.)
Somewhere in all this, while starting at last to do songs from the first record, the drummer busts out the Queen “We Will Rock You” beat or its equivalent and Patton gets the crowd going with claps and shouts, leading to this priceless exchange:
Patton: “All right everyone, REPEAT AFTER ME! (in time to the beat) BUD-WEI-SER!”
This goes on, other music and songs are performed. Then all of a sudden there’s a pause:
Patton: “All right, now! I LOVE THE MEL-VINS!”
Crowd: “I LOVE The mel…” (fading rapidly as they realize what they’re saying)
Patton: *bending back, in full madman voice* “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!” *turns away and ignores crowd*
They end up doing a few first album songs, but only that — “Travolta,” “Love is a Fist,” “My Ass is On Fire.” They abandon the stage. To my semi-surprise, there’s enough cheering and callbacks for an encore, as many others have been booing lustily and complaining loudly. So the band come back for an encore…logically, it’s another weird-ass crazy jam of something nobody recognizes.
And then this happens:
As one, the rest of the band stop what they’re doing and turn to the drummer. Initially he looks confused, as far as anyone can tell with his mask on. The others then start singing, enjoyably, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to…” etc.
The drummer stands up, a look of fear showing through his mask. He immediately throws his sticks down and runs off. Remember that this is a theatre in the round, with the band set up center, playing to one half of the venue, the other half roped off and empty. So the drummer charges up one of the empty aisles as fast as he can.
The other band members are displeased with this. They therefore drop *their* instruments and charge after him. To Steve’s and my utter amazement, we see them catch up with the drummer and, as best as we can tell, completely beat the living shit out of him!
And that was it. No ‘good night,’ no final announcement, nothing. Shortly thereafter the lights go up, so we all leave.
Steve and I were utterly, totally amazed, we had clearly seen one of the best shows of our lives, something Mackro agreed with me on when we compared notes much later. All around us the leathery types and moshpit morons and others were bitching and complaining and saying what shit it was — we realized that they had completely and utterly missed the joke on them. It was conceptual art terrorism of a high degree, and I’ve never seen anything like it since.
(2008 EDIT — I just realized I forgot to ask Buzz and Dale to fully confirm that last part. If it was only a fever dream of an ending, well, it only seemed appropriate.)