When I was younger, I hated the idea of reunions. I don’t remember which came first, my intense music snobbery or my intense dislike of reunions – I suspect the former – but I used to think reunions were awful. But it wasn’t just me: band reunions were regularly looked upon by Gen X with suspicion. I feel like it’s only in the 21st century that reunions have not only become acceptable but actually actively desired by the tastemakers. And I suspect this attitude change in society and me is healthy.
But, back when I thought reunions were awful, if there had been one band I would have put aside my attitude for to see reunite, it was Mr. Bungle. That was for a number of reasons; they broke up just as I was getting into them, being the principal reason. But probably another reason was that I never thought they would reunite.
The seemingly unthinkable happened in 2019, they announced a reunion. They played a few shows in California in New York before the pandemic. But they also did perhaps the most Mr. Bungle thing imaginable: they reunited in order to play their first ever demo, rather than any of the material they recorded when they were signed to Warner Bros. And it wasn’t the whole band, it was the three original members plus Dave Lombardo from Slayer and Scott Ian from Anthrax. They essentially reinvented themselves as a straight-up thrash metal band.
Later on in 2020 they re-recorded the demo and released it as their first album in over 20 years. The new version was heavier than the original, and more straight-forward. It was absolutely not what anyone wanted them to (I suspect).
So, when they announced they were coming to Canada, I was both very excited and also, um, not as excited as I think I would have been if the full band were back together and they had new music. The good news is that they played HISTORY, which is basically down the street from me. So I couldn’t not attend. (We literally moved our Brazil trip dates so I could go to this show.)
Battles Live at HISTORY Wednesday September 13, 2023
I liked Battles’ first album, as a lot of people did. Then I missed their second, when they were down to a trio, but listened to their third, and mostly liked that. And then I totally forgot about them. But when I saw they were opening for Bungle, I definitely had to check out the show.
I had no idea they were down to a duo, now. But you don’t really feel that live, as their guitarist/keyboardist was busy triggering samples. The set consisted of some songs from their most recent album, which I hadn’t gotten around to listening to, and some stuff from La Di Da Di, an album I listened to when it came out and then basically never listened again. They played a fun version of their “biggest hit,” “Atlas,” which was the highlight of the show for me if only because it was the one song I actually recognized (and recognized that it was different than the studio version).
But it was a good show and it was entertaining seeing all these people who had presumably come to a see a, and I quote, “circus music band,” warm up to and eventually embrace this every different thing. (Apparently this is pretty common for openers for Mike Patton bands, to have someone fairly unrelated open.)
Mr. Bungle Live at HISTORY Wednesday September 13, 2023
Bungle walked out to the now legendary performance of Also sprach Zarathustra by the Portsmouth Sinfornia, a performance that can still, sometimes, cause me to laugh uncontrollably. (Fortunately I kept it together.)
As I feared (/knew, since I looked at Setlist FM beforehand) the set was mostly composed of the demo, with a bunch of covers thrown in to be zany. I was actually surprised that most of the people I saw the show with didn’t know that was going to happen. A lot of people seemed surprised, but I guess not every watched their 2019 shows on YouTube or checked out their setlists.
It was unrelating, with relatively few breaks between songs and only like two total pauses for stage banter. So if I was going to see a thrash metal show, I suspect this is what I would want.
The one concession to the fans – aside from some of the covers, perhaps – was an abbreviated version of “My Ass is on Fire” from their debut (with the theme song from the Pepto Bismal ad tacked on the to the end, just because).
So, the covers included a very brief version of “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc, a Cro-Mags cover (I do not know the Cro-Mags and so didn’t know this), a Slayer cover combined with a segue into “Summer Breeze” (albeit with suitably infantile new lyrics), a 7Seconds cover (another ’80s band I don’t know), which segued into “True,” which included a part at which the famous “Huh huh huh hu-uh huh” being replaced by a toy pig oinking. (No I am not making that up.) The encore was covers to, a cover of an old soul song “Satan Never Sleeps” and a Sepultura cover. (The latter was fitting for me as I was just in Brazil.) The covers were what you mostly would expect, thrash metal, hardcore and cheesy pop. I didn’t know the soul cover or the hardcover covers, and I’d listened to neither metal song in years, so it was mostly all a surprise to me. (Though I knew they were coming from spending too much time on Setlist FM.)
But they were the most surprising thing. And that’s where I find myself stuck.
I agree that it is ballsy to reunite to play something none of your fans want to hear. It was in 2019. I think it’s the kind of thing that would have appealed to me when I thought reunions were stupid. But now, as I age, and as society’s attitude has shifted my own feelings, I kind of wanted them to “play the hits” though I absolutely would have taken weird versions, or versions that didn’t resemble the studio versions (in part because especially California requires too big a band to play live). I knew I wouldn’t get that because of the lineup, even if I hadn’t looked at the setlists ahead of time.
Everything was played expertly and tightly. And the sound was quite good. My only gripe of the show is once we moved over to stage left I had trouble hearing Spruance’s solos, but I suspect if I had been more centre it would have been clearer. But it everything about the show was good.
Basically, what I’m saying is I think it didn’t quite scratch the “Mr. Bungle live” itch that I’ve felt ever since I first heard their live cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” that I downloaded from Napster Kazaa or something 20 years ago.
It is, of course, their prerogative to reunite how they want to. And I have now seen a proper trash metal show, so that’s something. (Most of the metal I’ve seen before this was either artier or more theatrical or more doomy or whatever.)