Bungle Thoughts

Tue Jan 14 2014

In preparation for, and since, the Mr. Bungle radio show I did on WMSE last week, I’ve been listening to a lot of live Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3 and whatnot (OHREALLY?)

I'd say barring Phish, U2 and Zeppelin, the Bungle family has the most enthralling catalog of endlessly listenable live recordings out there, in terms of what I look for anyway. I've come to grips, reluctantly, with the tragic fact that I never caught Bungle prior to 1999: As long as I'm not actually listening to the epic Barrymore show from 1995, I can tolerate the fact that I wasn't at it. While the Rave '99 show and the Sno-Core '00 performance were naturally among my greatest concert experiences ever, if there's a way to quantify Bungleness, Bungle was a tad past its prime by then.

California is a nearly-perfect album, yes, and I would argue that Bungle in 1999 was still the greatest show on Earth, but previous tours were wilder and less predictable. And I'm probably just a little bitter that the band was still whipping out "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" and "Carry Stress In The Jaw" and "Merry Go Bye Bye" on those later tours but not in Milwaukee. We did get the rare "Love Is A Fist" in '99, as Patton kept sarcastically announcing how nice it was to be accepted in such a "metal town", but I have to admit I felt a little ripped off by the latter-day arrangement of "My Ass Is On Fire"...

NITPICK MUCH? Truthfully, it's ridiculous to complain about that show; they opened with their industrial/doom cover of Billy Squier's "The Stroke" and actually played a pretty unique (and utterly mind-blowing) set for that tour. But the Modjeska show was ridiculously short and entirely made up of California tracks, so really aside from "Goodbye Sober Day" and "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" (both admittedly amazing), that show was a tad disappointing (moreso because we assumed Bungle was headlining only to arrive in the middle of their second song with Incubus (??????) and System Of A Down yet to play, but still).

I don't even regret missing the goofiness and metal-ness and random-song-insertion-ness of the early days so much. I almost feel like listening to those shows is enough. But to have missed Theo Lengyel entirely, especially with his amazing work on songs like "Phlegmatics" and "Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead" and the "Bends" segments, the drone-noise-free-jazz phase of the mid-90s…that radical improvisation was practically gone by '99, and things were much more composed. Admittedly, there were plenty of bad nights in '95; the only soundboard recording I'm aware of from that tour, the New Orleans show, is really sloppy and relatively tame compared with other shows. The band was definitely tighter overall in '99 and 2000, and capable of just as much intensity as ever; it was just less spontaneous and dangerous overall.

Regardless of Theo's departure, I do feel like Patton was the one who pushed the band in a more accessible and compositional direction for the most part, even though Trey was definitely writing some of the most intricate and most stylistically diverse stuff. I don't want to say Faith No More poisoned Bungle, but you have to admit that after Trey's brief stint there for King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime, Bungle suddenly had some pop songs, and Trey did co-write "Pink Cigarette" after all. And I love most of those pop songs, and somewhat shockingly to me, Dunn was the one writing "Retrovertigo" (amazing) and "The Holy Filament" (meh). But since Bungle, who's been making pop records? Patton, and not a single other ex-Bungler. Yeah, Trey did the Halloween theme, but come on. (That's right: I'm pretending, along with the rest of the world, that MadLove never happened.)

We're very blessed to have SC3 still operating at a completely undiminished peak level, and still pushing musical boundaries ("Tessellations" anyone?). All indications are that Trey is more focused than ever on the notion of long-form improvisation, which has of course been my abiding dream for SC3 basically since I first heard of them. It's scary to think that the best may be yet to come with this band, but scarier still is the idea that Trey could just as easily go into hiding for a few years or vanish altogether without warning. The absolute last thing I would want to see is for all the momentum SC3 has built up over the past six years be squandered.

But I can't pretend any more that anything in the live music realm could thrill me more than a Bungle reunion. Preferably as a living, new-song-writing entity, and even more preferably, with Lengyel. I'd like to say without Lengyel I'm barely interested, but who am I kidding? For one thing, the guy seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth, and for another, just thinking about hearing the opening chord of "Travolta" live again gives me goosebumps. I wouldn't even care if they played the exact same setlist as the Rave '99 show. From what I've read, it seems like Dunn is dead set against it and I'm certainly not optimistic that it will ever happen. I can't help feeling like there's unfinished business there, though. Seriously, now that Dunn has joined Patton in Tomahawk, how can they both not be like 'dude, this is rockin' and all but it's child's play compared to the shit we used to create together'? There's been nothing that comes close to capturing the Bungle feeling since the band went dormant in 2000, and it's not bloody likely that some other band could ever come along and fill that void. Maybe there's simply no place for Bungle in the modern world, but I can't quite abandon hope that some day I'll get to see a performance of "Ma Meeshka" after all. Hell, m b v happened. Anything's possible.
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