Monday, September 25, 2023

Bats**t in Boston: An Evening with Mr. Bungle

Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle

“Joel! Joel! You’ve gotta hear this band another student played me—Mr. Bungle! ‘My Ass Is on Fire’ is incredible! I can’t stop listening to it!”


Those were the words my old drum teacher, the late Keith Necessary, shot off as he bounced excitedly into the room one day in 1991. Keith was a true pro musician who had kept the beat for bloody James Taylor, for fuck’s sake, so his enthusiasm instantly carried weight for me—especially since a band with a song called “My Ass Is on Fire” typically wouldn’t be in the guy’s wheelhouse. Hell, Mr. Bungle wasn’t in anyone’s wheelhouse when it delivered its eponymous Warner Bros. Records debut—still one of the most beautifully batshit major-label albums ever released—32 years ago.


Formed in California in 1985, Mr. Bungle began as a high school Metal band with a penchant for the bizarre. Musically, the band’s 1986 demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, fell between Possessed and Fishbone. Weird, right? Well, by the time Mr. Bungle scored its big record deal a few years later (a feat undoubtedly helped along by the fact that the group’s frontman, Mike Patton, had recently reached hitmaker status with his other band, Faith No More), its sonic shitstorm of eclecticism had reached epic proportions. This musical mindfuckery lasted for another nine years and two more albums before the band called it a day in 2000.


Scott Ian of Mr. Bungle

Fast-forward to February 2020. Seemingly out of nowhere, a revamped incarnation of Mr. Bungle—Patton, original guitarist Trey Spruance, original bassist Trevor Dunn, Anthrax/Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.)/Motor Sister guitarist Scott Ian, and drummer extraordinaire Dave Lombardo (Slayer/John Zorn/Grip Inc./Misfits/Suicidal Tendencies/Testament/Dead Cross)—hit the stage for a handful of shows comprised largely of material from The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. Although the group’s fanbase was delighted to have it back, more than a few followers balked at the lack of music from its Warner Bros. era in the set. (Frankly, there’s something so perfectly Mr. Bungle about the band reforming to primarily play its primitive material from the mid-’80s when 95 percent of its audience had anticipated something else entirely.)

Later in the year, this lineup released The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, a studio re-recording of several tracks from the original 1986 tape along with a sprinkling of covers and renditions of tracks written in the old days but never recorded. A Halloween 2020 livestream event was later released as The Night They Came Home.

Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle

Earlier this month, Mr. Bungle brought its Easter Bunny-centric live show back on the road for a handful of dates that included its first Boston show in nearly 24 years. Hitting the stage at Roadrunner on September 11, the band savaged the crowd with … a cover of Fred Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (?!?!). The esoterica escalated from there.

One moment, the band was blasting through the Easter Bunny track “Anarchy Up Your Anus.” The next moment, it was delivering a note-perfect version of Spandau Ballet’s “True.” (Really.) The evening’s covers repertoire included D.R.I.’s “I Don’t Need Society,” 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” (!!!), Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” (with expletives added for flavor), Corrosion of Conformity’s “Loss for Words,” the intro to Slayer’s “Hell Awaits,” S.O.D.’s “Speak English or Die” (rechristened “Habla Español o Muere”), Timi Yuro’s “Satan Never Sleeps” (dedicated to the recently departed Pee-wee Herman), and “Cold War” by Massachusetts underground legends/Grindcore progenitors Siege. When the band got around to playing, you know, Mr. Bungle songs, it stuck to 1986 apart from an incendiary run through “My Ass Is on Fire” during the encore. The WTF? nature of the band’s setlist felt like either the most outstanding travel playlist of all time or just a really good afternoon on WFMU. Either way, it was glorious.


As much fun as the packed Roadrunner crowd had that evening, seemingly no one had more of it than Scott Ian, whose wide smiles toward the photo pit during the first three songs just screamed, “Man, look what I get to do right now!” Roughly 18 months shy of 60, Lombardo still reigns as one of the greatest living drummers in Metal (even if the band’s frustratingly murky light show left him obscured in darkness for most of the night), while the ever-versatile Spruance and Dunn still perform with Zappa-meets-Zorn smarts.

And Mike Patton is still Mike Patton. Thank God (or the Easter Bunny) for that.