“I think it’s time for a round of applause for the composer, Mr. John Kaada. It’s his world: we just live in it.” —Mike Patton during the live performance
If there’s any act that warrants the live performance DVD treatment, a one-off side-project by Mike Patton and Kaada is probably one of the last possibilities that comes to mind.
Patton, of course, is the former frontman of rap-rock pioneers Faith No More, later setting up defiantly avant-garde label Ipecac Recordings in the wake of FNM’s demise. John Erik Kaada, meanwhile, is a well-regarded film composer in Norway who then released one of the most fascinating mash-ups of samples and electronica in recent memory with his 2003 debut album Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time. That excellent album was released on Ipecac, and it was quite obvious that Patton saw what the immensely talented Kaada was capable of.
The two made an album together—2004’s Romances—and it turned out to be abstract even for Ipecac’s usual standards: swooping orchestral sounds reminiscent of a 1940s horror film, the occasional appearance of hard rock guitars, time-signature changes that would make even the Mars Volta envious, and—most notably—practically no lyrics to speak of (the times they did appear, they were in short, repeated phrases like “One is for the money / They say two is for the show / Three to get ready / But I don’t want to go”). It’s the definition of a niche album, yet Patton felt compelled to document its one-time-only performance of it at the 2005 Roskilde Festival (where Patton himself was also busy performing with Fantomas and Rahzel).
The most remarkable thing about the live performance is how the duo—along with Kaada’s longtime backing band Cloroform—actually manages to replicate the album near perfectly on stage. Every note, ghostly sound effect, and slide-guitar intro is there in full glory. Yet even though the compositions are almost entirely written by Kaada, it’s Patton who steals the show. Still regarded as one of the best rock vocalists working today, Patton drives every single song home, largely because he has the inhuman capability of hitting every single note with perfection, often sounding exactly like he does on the studio recording. The live DVD does an excellent job of capturing Patton at his peak, and is worth the price of admission if not just for that alone.
Yet there’s something odd about the performance of Romances: because it is a reenactment of the original LP, the performance actually inherits all of the downsides that the album was cursed with from the start. Mainly: elliptical song structures.
Though there are significant changes in the beginnings and endings of each piece, the songs are still largely based on a single repeated melody line that often spirals out into the ether, never fully landing on the listener’s ears. This is particularly apparent on “Crepuscule”, in which—due to any sort of rising action—it feels as if the song is re-starting itself again and again and again.
Though “Pitie Pour Mes Larmes” has an opening that sounds oddly like a lost track from great ‘90s pop-rockers Jellyfish, the track soon gets lost in its own introverted world of bell clicks and chain rattles. The Hawaiian slack guitar that opens “Viens, Les Gazons Sont Verts” soon gives way to an abstract national anthem of some country that has yet to exist.
Ultimately, the whole thing would come off as some long, indulgent jam-session if it wasn’t so meticulously planned to begin with. The songs by themselves work fine, but as a performance, we never get any sort of climax or even a proper resolution. Even the set-closing piece, “The Cloroform Theme”, feels like just another song the group happened to pull out of their catalog.
For those who want a glimpse into the creative process of these two musical juggernauts, there are at least a few things than can be taken away from the short rehearsal film included. Much like the concert movie itself, the rehearsal footage is filmed entirely in a grainy black-and-white, furthering the haunting/nostalgic vibe of the music. The band is tight to begin with, and Kaada appears to only want to resolve any transition problems that may come up during the performance itself (amending keyboard melodies to give Patton more of a proper lead-in, for example).
Occasionally we break to see Patton and Kaada chatting with each other, and their conversations are inexplicably subtitled (Kaada speaks fine English – English language viewers only really need subtitles when he’s speaking in his native tongue with his band). At one early point, Patton asks, “What do you think, Maestro?” to which Kaada humbly replies, “I’m surprised it works at all. The album [Romances] is based more on sounds than melodies.” And Kaada is correct in this statement: it does work, but only as individual moments. As an album, it’s quite a demanding listen.
Ultimately, Kaada/Patton Live is an intriguing DVD that will easily fulfill the desires of Patton fans, avant-garde appreciators, and those who just enjoy the flat-out weird. For everyone else, a listen of Romances is in order before you can consider giving Live a watch. It’s certainly not for everybody, but as Patton & Kaada both acknowledge, it was never intended to be.
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