By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Members of beloved Bay Area experimental rock band Mr. Bungle play their first Bay Area show together in two decades when they share the stage with former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Anthrax/S.O.D. guitarist Scott Ian at the Warfield Saturday night and the following Thursday.
The news of the partial reunion surfaced in mid-August of last summer with a press release initially announcing three concerts by the group (that number has since grown to seven shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York). Original members Mike Patton (vocals, keyboards), Trey Spruance (guitar) and Trevor Dunn (bass) will be joined by the two legendary thrash-metal musicians to perform Mr. Bungle’s self-produced first demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.
The performances will mark the first time the musicians have played under the Mr. Bungle banner has played since touring to support the band’s last album, 1999’s California. Two longtime members, saxophonist/keyboard player Clinton “Bar” McKinnon and drummer Danny Heifetz, are not involved with the reunion.
Started in 1985 in Eureka when the musicians were still in their teens, Mr. Bungle crafted a anarchic mix of metal, ska, experimental jazz, punk and soundtrack music that evolved dramatically from release to release. Their first self-produced and released demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny in 1986 found the band just starting to develop a death-metal-meets-ska sound heavily influenced by the early efforts of Slayer and Anthrax side project Stormtroopers of Death.
Bungle would release two more demos, eventually relocating to San Francisco when Patton was hired as the lead singer to similarly genre-smashing SF rock band Faith No More. That group was launched to international fame with their first album with Patton, The Real Thing, in 1989. With sales fueled largely by the MTV hit “Epic” that matched the singer’s rapped vocals to a soaring chorus and headbanging metal riff, the success of the album led to a record deal for Mr. Bungle, who recorded their self-titled experimental funk-metal debut with NYC punk-jazz maverick John Zorn.
While the group could have played up Patton’s matinee idol looks, Mr. Bungle instead matched the dark carnival soundtrack of their music with an equally disturbing visual sense that featured the members in Halloween costumes and clown or bondage masks while playing live onstage. The band also built a massive catalog of cover songs, mixing everything from ’70s television themes, pop hits, soundtrack obscurities (Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone were composers of choice) and punk/metal favorites into setlists during the controlled chaos of their concerts.
Mr. Bungle would produce two more albums over the course of the ’90s — the wildly avant-garde effort Disco Volante in 1995 and the more pop-minded but still strange California in 1999 — but went on an extended hiatus in 2000. While Patton, Spruance and Dunn have collaborated on a variety of projects, including Patton’s bands Fantômas (which includes Patton and Dunn along with Lombardo and Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne), Tomahawk and Mondo Cane, recordings and performances with Spruance’s band Secret Chiefs 3 and Patton singing with Lombardo’s band Dead Cross, these concerts are the first time the musicians have revisited Mr. Bungle since the hiatus began.
What fans can expect at these special concerts remains to be seen, though the picture should become clearer after the first scheduled show at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles on February 5. Though advance word indicates that the group will only be playing songs from The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny while eschewing the material from Mr. Bungle’s three proper album releases, the respective talents and backgrounds of the band’s special guests Lombardo and Ian open the group up to a world of possibilities when it comes to cover songs.
The run of shows is also including some of the band’s formative influences among the opening acts scheduled, including such important bands as heavy rock weirdos the Melvins, early thrash exponents Hirax and gore-metal greats Cattle Decapitation. The San Francisco shows at the Warfield will feature virtuoso punk rock power trio Victims Family — a North Bay mainstay in complex, slide-rule hardcore since the early ’80s that were regular visitors to Mr. Bungle’s hometown of Eureka — and ’90s grindcore heroes Intestinal Disgorge at the show on Feb. 8, while Bay Area proto death metal greats Possessed and dark humored anti-comedian Neil Hamburger warm up the crowd on Feb. 13.
Mr. Bungle plays The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny with Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian
Saturday, Feb. 8 and Thursday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m. $45-$90