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Concert Review: Fant“mas Play the Roxy

Due to the diversity, prolificacy, and quality of his ongoing 20-year career, the question “Hey, weren’t you in that one band that had that one song?” is one Mike Patton should never have to hear. The inaccessibility of his work, however, may consign him to be remembered by the masses as Faith No More’s lead singer and the star of the “Epic” video with the flopping fish.

Patton led Fant“mas, one of the centerpieces of his Ipecac Records label, into the Roxy last week. Made up of Buzz Osborne (of Melvins), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Trio Convulsant), and Dave Lombardo (Slayer), the incredibly versatile and skilled band truly deserves the supergroup label thrown around so lackadaisically by the 80’s music press.

After branching off for a couple of albums consisting of a collection of covers of movie themes and one sparse, 70+ minute track, Fant“mas returned to the style of their 1999 debut with Suspended Animation, released this month. Made up of 30 tracks (one for each day of April), only one of which is longer than 2.5 minutes, the group showcases a wide variety of musical ideas in the form of fragments of music stitched together by sound effects. Instead of a crime comic book theme, however, this time around cartoons are the glue that keeps everything together. For example, a selection of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” Wile E. Coyote plummeting to the Earth, and Pac Man dying are just a few of the aural reminders of our childhood they use to give the album a playful, elastic feel.

Predictably, then, their tight, banter free, 60 minute set consisted almost entirely of a melding of their debut and Suspended Animation.

Unfortunately, unlike their release of six years ago, the album doesn’t hold together as a compelling unit and the live show wasn’t much different. Their innovation and boundary pushing is to be lauded, but it’s almost as if they’ve gone too far with the fragments this time around. Just when you start to feel a groove coming on, it ends abruptly in favor of a lengthy speak-and-spell sample or recording of kids in a schoolyard. Even that level of disorientation brought about by challenging your preconceptions would be tolerable if only it didn’t happen so often.

The lack of flow in the music and the amount of focus required to carry out its technical intricacies seemed to subdue even the normally boisterous band members. It seemed as if their heads had won out over their hearts in the studio and that dynamic was difficult to sustain through the rigors of touring. In addition, Patton’s voice, simultaneously one of the most beautiful and versatile male voices in the industry, seemed weak. He’s the best in the world at creating a diverse set of sounds using only a microphone, but you have to wonder if he’s yelped and screeched a few too many times.

The members of Fant“mas all have impressive r‚sum‚s, and I have no doubt they will continue to push the definition of rock and avant-garde music for several more years. They seem to have spent the last couple of years in a transitory phase where they’ve tried some new ideas only to miss the mark-sometimes by a wide margin and other times you can hear the genius lying just below the surface.

As far as venues go, the Roxy is one of the best in the country. If a band that you even just kinda like is scheduled to play there, go. It’s a one-of-a-kind club and they have fixed everything that ever frustrated you about rock shows. Serving as a dance club most nights, the interior is decorated with carpet, leather and velour couches in nooks and crannies, and elaborate gold vines covering the walls and ceilings. Stand in front of the stage for the best sound and near the back of the room for the best non-pit sightlines. The drink lines are short and, best of all for making sure you make it to your study group the next day, they start their shows on time.

April 25, 2005
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