There's a reason that Mike Patton fans are so fiercely dedicated to Mike Patton and his multitude of projects. There's a reason that Melvins fans are so fiercely dedicated to the Melvins and their multitude of projects. It's the same reason that newbies to the groups often find them to be so impenetrable. It's because they do stuff like this.
Composed of Mike Patton, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover of the Melvins, and frequent collaborator of both groups, Trevor Dunn, Fantômas isn't so much a band as it is a project that strives to create the weirdest recordings possible while still retaining listenability. The project seems to almost worship at the altar of Zappa, while realizing that if you actually do worship at the altar of Zappa, then you're not.
Recorded during a New Year's Eve show, The Director's Cut Live: A New Year's Revolution finds the group messing and twisting with the material recorded for their Director's Cut LP, which was already a series of warped movie theme covers. Here, the group cuts up the former themes, investigates each element, and them stitches them back together, reanimating them as gruesome tributes to the originals.
As with the recent string of Melvins dates where they played full albums live, the group pays little respect to the sound recordings and completely changes the tracklist and uses the songs themselves as suggestions more than blueprints. On tracks like "One Step Beyond", Patton juices up his already manic style of singing, screaming in a series of unintelligible yelps, while retaining a crooner's edge in his voice to show that he's not so much vocal shredding as he is a man with inhuman voice control. Likewise, Osborne seems to increase the thickness of his strings, making his uniquely massive, crushing riffs, rawer, harsher, and lower. Following in step, Crover and Dunn make the bombastic parts more bombastic, and the quieter parts are lowered from whispers to gentle hisses.
While the live performance is fast, wacky, and features few breaks for the new listener to figure out what the hell is going on, the live performance is remarkable for its listenability. The rapid twists in tempo and jumps in volume seem to occur naturally, as if jumping from 2 to 10 on the amp HAD to happen just there or the music wouldn't make sense. When the band dissolves into spacey sound effects on "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", it seems to flow naturally from the more traditional sounding music, giving both sides of the trip an added importance and singularity.
The DVD's commentary track features the worst stand-up comedian in the biz, Neil Hamburger...and by worst, I mean best. Sort of a Henny Youngman with half the style and twice the black lung, Hamburger stammers and yammers through jokes that are as off color as they are overused. In contrast to commentary tracks where people involved in the project on display pat each other on the back and talk about what a great job they did, Hamburger spends the entire DVD railing on the group, spitting and clearing his throat, decrying them as "noise" and "disgraceful." But, despite all his bemoaning, and claims that he's just doing the commentary because he needs the money, it seems he might actually be having a good time...
While a super group of alt-alt-alt-rock legends playing berserk live covers of movie themes might seem like a lot to take in...it is. But, for those willing to take the plunge into the energetic heap of a performance might find it all suddenly clicking at once with a new appreciation for the groups making up the composition, as well as the dissected underlying material.
You can also download the audio portion of this from iTunes. Much props, because while I like watching movie DVDs, I find myself re-listening to albums more frequently than re-watching movies. More labels should do this with their live DVDs.