It couldn’t have been more perfect, a match made in metal hell: The front man of a hugely popular alternative-metal group bravely venturing out on his own, testing himself on the proving ground of a support slot for an experimental metal supergroup with a rabidly loyal following. The audience would listen politely and applaud in all the right places and Serj Tankian, having paid his dues, would eventually be rewarded with a successful solo career, and no longer have to shoulder the burden that comes with being “that guy from System of a Down.” Pleasantries out of the way, the legendary Fantômas would take to the stage and tear it apart by playing their seminal The Director’s Cut album in its entirety, leaving the crowd howling for more from their satanic majesties.
So why were Fantômas forced to play second fiddle as support for Serj Tankian? What kind of bizarre and backwards universe have we fallen through the looking glass into? Yeah, I lied in the title; I’m not ashamed to admit it. I did it because I couldn’t bear to put Serj Tankian’s name first, which is how things actually were. So I didn’t. I can only imagine that System of a Down have sold a few more albums than Mike Patton and Co. in recent years, so his name wormed it’s undeserved way to the top of the bill. Here’s how it actually went down…
Fantômas + Serj Tankian
24 Jan 2009: Enmore Theatre Sydney, Australia
I have never in my life seen such a line to get into a venue in time to see a support act. This was a line of epic proportions, a line for the ages. I felt like hopping a taxi to get to the end of it. After walking halfway down Enmore Road to find the end, then half-way back up to get in the door, we huddled in the auditorium amongst the sea of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More t-shirts, which seemed to far outweigh the odd SOAD rag scattered amongst the crowd.
The build-up was intense, with a lot of hyper-masculine “YEAAAAAAHHHH” going on. Any project involving Mike Patton seems to attract a fair share of meatheads as well as metal heads, which is surprising to me given the more experimental and intellectual nature of much of his work. These fans notwithstanding, Fantômas were certainly a sight to behold, with Buzz Osbourne’s Afro entering stage left several minutes before the man himself. Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Dale Crover (replacing Dave Lombardo for the band’s touring duties) were uniformly dressed in a cricket theme (what do you mean you don’t know cricket? Robin Williams famously described it as “baseball on Valium”), while King Buzz was kitted out in your more traditional “rock black.” I found myself spending the first few minutes of the show wondering how bad the before-show fight was that led to this sartorial rift in the bad. Maybe Buzz thinks black is slimming?
Having never seen Mike Patton live before I wasn’t ready for how crazy he seems in person. With his hair slicked back like Desi Arnaz via hell and with an evil glint in his eye, Patton was everything his music leads you to think of him and then some. The band wasted no time with introductions, instead tearing straight into their brutal demolition of the “Godfather Theme”. Patton leered over his keyboards and samplers, grinning maniacally at the crowd, while the rest of the band focussed intensely on getting the music just right.
Despite Dave Lombardo being absent, the drumming was easily the most impressive I’ve ever heard or seen. Some of those drum hits threatened to liquidise my internal organs, they were simply that intense. The highlight of their set for me, however, was “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”, from the criminally underrated Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack of the David Lynch film. The doom-laden supper club shuffle of the song is perfect fodder for Fantômas’ demented, glowering swagger, and they more than do it justice. Shortly after, and with little fanfare and certainly no encore, the band had left the stage, and left the crowd with busted eardrums, aching for more.
At this point a whole bunch of people sauntered out of the theatre, and really I should have joined them. In fact I should probably just stop writing this now and do us all a favour. No?
Well, if you must know, then Serj Tankian was awful. Truly awful. Not just a little, forgivable bit; a whole whopping truckload of awfulness. Tankian has developed something of a “show,” if we can stretch the definition of that word a little. What it means is that he and the band, who are for all intents and purposes completely interchangeable with the members of SOAD, arrive on stage in top hats. (Oh Mr. Tankian, you are a card!) He then persists with some incredibly half-assed “ring-leader” antics that only succeed at looking weird and strained. They even had the poor dude doing jazz-hands.
To top off all of this horror, he peppered his show with two cover versions. The first was an ill-conceived tilt at Abba’s “Money, Money, Money”. OK, so he likes to come over all political, and this was his attempt to use a little of the irony that the kids love so dearly these days. Fair enough. But his second cover?
“Space Oddity”!!! “Space Oddity”!!!!!!!!!!! What point could he possibly hope to make by ruining “Space Oddity”? What hellish demon was he hoping to invoke by offering up this innocent sacrifice on the altar of his awfulness? For me this will always remain one of the truly terrifying mysteries of this night.
That, and how the hell this guy ended up being supported by a band that far outclassed him in every possible way.