Friday, August 18, 2006

Peeping Tom and Gnarls Barkley @ Summerstage

Mike Patton's long been one of my favorite musicians, but I've never seen him live. So, when I saw he was opening for Gnarls Barkley, the concert became a must. Mike's work on Lovage is one of the best vocal performances of all time and his various rock bands have all done stuff ranging from good to great. Peeping Tom is a less severe project than his work on Fantomas or Bungle, incorporating a lot of hip hop influences into his usual repetoire.

When I first heard the album, I liked it, but felt it was a bit of Patton on autopilot. I think some of his Fantomas work is unneccesarily noisy and abstract, but I respect his attempts to push the envelope. His best work other than Lovage is Mr. Bungle's California, an album that cycles through nearly every genre, ranging from Beach Boys style harmonic rock to Sinatra style lounge singing to heavy screaming. Because Patton cycles through so many genres, I can take the heaviness of his work more than I can with a lot of bands. If you're going to do heavy vocals, you need contrast, otherwise it's just noise. Look at 'Five Seconds' off the Peeping Tom album, the screaming "One one thousand" part works because of the way it breaks into the smoothness of the verses.

So, I was excited to see Patton live. I think he was great, but at this show he ran into a number of issues. On a basic level, it's difficult to be the opening band, you're an obstacle in the way of the audience seeing what they really wanted to see. I was looking forward to both bands this time, but most of the time I just want the opening band to wrap things up. Patton seemed to be frustrated with the lack of audience response, I'd imagine he's used to it at this point, having opened for Gnarls for a while, but it's still got to be frustrating to be giving a performance and not getting much back from the audience. There were a few people into it, but generally speaking, this didn't seem to be the audience for Patton's stuff.

The other issue was the sound mix. When they first came out, there was way too much bass, you could barely hear the vocals. However, once this got resolved, they put on a great show. Patton was really charismatic and it was amazing to hear him go from really heavy stuff to smooth singing in moments. The personal highlight for me was when they played Lovage's "Anger Management," augmented wonderfully by a violin. The other highlights were "Five Seconds," "We're Not Alone," and the closing song "Sucker," which saw some really great interplay between Patton and his backup singer.

I thought they were great and I feel like if I had seen them yesterday, as headliners at the Warsaw, it would have been a truly great concert experience. As it was, I enjoyed the show, but didn't get that rush of being part of a crowd that's really into a show. So, if they come around again doing a headlining tour, I'll definitely see them again.

I'm a bit confused as to why Patton would choose to do these opening shows. Next month, they're opening for The Who, an audience that will probably be even less receptive than the crowd here. I suppose the goal is to get the music out to a larger audience, but very rarely do I see an opening act that's good enough to compel me to check out their music. Unless a band has an instantly notable sound, like a Polyphonic Spree, you're not going to be sold on them just through the live show, particularly if the crowd isn't into it. I'd rather see Patton headline a place like Irving than do a show like this. The one cool thing that could come out of it would be a Patton/Danger Mouse collaboration. Maybe it's because he replaced him on Gorillaz, but I've always sensed an implicit rivalry between Automator and Danger Mouse, and Patton's definitely on the Automator side. But, he does enough projects that he could fit both in if need be.

Anyway, even though I think Peeping Tom's a better album, Gnarls Barkley was a better live experience. They came out in school uniforms as "The School of Rock," starting with a cover of "Another Brick in the Wall II." Live, Gnarls as a whole, and Cee-Lo in particular, has so much enthusiasm that you can't help but get caught up in it. The crowd was really into them and gave him huge reactions to all his jokes and banter, of which there was quite a bit.

With a 12 piece band, the album's songs were turned a bit more rock and the slow ones in particular had some really nice, heavy jams. "St. Elsewhere" was a highlight, as was "Just a Thought." I kept thinking that "Storm Coming" was the second part of another song, so I was waiting for it for a while, and it didn't disappoint when it finally turned up.

Cee-Lo did a lot of talking to audience and his stories were pretty entertaining. This is a guy who's been on the fringe for a long time, and you could tell that he was still sort of in awe of performing for such big crowds. This was the conclusion of their first tour and he closed things by saying that they just received their Platinum plaques. I think it's great that an album by two really talented people wound up becoming so successful.

I liked the way they darkened the lights at the end of every song, it added a lot to the drama of the performance. Ultimately, this is a show, and even though their presentation is somewhat gimmicky, it's fun and if it helps engage the crowd, then they should keep doing it.

This was a great performance, they preserved the feel of the album, but expanded it into a more expansive, more jammy sound that worked really well. They took a pretty good album and made a great live show.

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