Let’s start with a brief overview of Fantômas’s history. In 1999, the band would, composed of members of Mr. Bungle, Melvins, and Slayer, lead off Ipecac Recordings’ catalog with IPC-001, their self-titled album. Two years later they’d come along with their masterpiece, The Director’s Cut, IPC-017, 15 tracks that are covers of movie themes (plus a four second untitled track), some that you’ve heard (The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby) and more that you haven’t. In 2004 and 2005 they’d release a forgettable pair of albums (the latter of which I reviewed at an old joint) before going into a cold war of hibernation. (I read one interview with guitarist Buzz Osborne, the Melvins representative, where he said, “Ask [lead singer] Mike [Patton],” when asked why we hadn’t seen any Fantômas releases for a while.) Amid that somewhat bizarre somewhat public airing of grievances, Osborne and Patton managed to get together to perform this New Year’s show, replacing drummer Dave Lombardo (also of Slayer) with Melvins’ Dale Crover. (The only member you have not yet been introduced to in this review is Mr. Bungle’s bassist Trevor Dunn.)
It’s not clear when this was recorded, though it was on a New Year’s Day. Given that it was released in September(!) 2011, it’s safe to say this was recorded starting at midnight on January 1, 2011 in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I have some difficult history with Fantômas live. On New Year’s Eve 1999 I disappointedly showed up at their show just at the end of their set (they were second in a lineup of five). And on something like September 14th or 15th 2001 I had tickets to their show in Minneapolis, but because some assholes flew planes into the World Trade Center a few days prior, I couldn’t get out of Portland in order to see it. And then I feel like I did see them on the Suspended Animation tour in Boston with The Locust opening, but I don’t see a review of that show.
So, anyway, it’s weird that the band would perform the entirety of this album ten years after its release and six years after they’d released anything at all, but I was happy to get it even then since it really is an amazing album. They do the entire thing live, but in a different order, and they pull it off, too, which is impressive since there are an awful lot of studio tricks and the virtuosity required is nothing to sneeze at either.
But more than the excellent source material, the exquisite performances, and the fantastic sound, this DVD is special because of the visual production. The first few tracks start off pretty standard, and then over the next 40 minutes or so things start getting trippier and trippier. It starts with some intentionally grainy footage and a few different screens, and moves onto ghost images, a rotating stage, and special effects that include distorting the band’s faces into demons from a terrible acid trip. It’s appropriate for a soundtrack consisting of horror movie themes.
The encore has them doing a fart-heavy (no, really) version of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” over visuals of bears and gorillas taking shits (no, really) and closing with “Chariot Choogle,” a T-Rex cover and probably my favorite song of theirs. I might have been tempted to give this five clowns had they stopped there, but for some reason they end with some weird guy who seems like he might be homeless and has recently been discharged from the hospital viewing the footage in a trailer and making “commentary” on it. It’s very difficult to watch.
Fortunately, there is a more real commentary on the concert done by comedian Neil Hamburger. This won’t be for everybody, but fans of alternative comedy and Fantômas should enjoy it. It’s a single, still camera recording Hamburger watch the DVD on his bed in the Destiny Inn in Commerce, California, which he tells us is directly between a freeway (that we can see out his window) and train tracks. He proceeds at a very deliberate pace to describe his terrible stand-up show that night in Industry, instruct us on how to check for bedbugs (he finds none this night), complain about the band’s sloppy dress, and hide a room key from a prior hotel so that whoever finds it can win an Ipecac Recordings “prize pack,” among other things. There’s very little describing the actual concert, but it doesn’t matter since it’s hilarious.
Coming into this I thought this would just be a standard concert DVD, and based on the history of the band, it felt like it had a real chance to just be a money grab. But I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed watching it this week. Here’s a tip, though: This performance has such giant dynamic range that you don’t want to listen to it in the evenings on your TV while you want your kids to be sleeping and not overhearing a rock band singing horror songs and cussing. It’s better to pop this into a PC with an optical drive and put on some awesome headphones. Let yourself fall into the mesmerizing sounds and visuals Fantômas has for you.
Filed Between: I haven’t unpacked my DVDs yet, either, but based on my review of The Fantômas Melvins Big Band DVD, it’s probably between that and High Fidelity.
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading