Sydney Festival Live Review: Mike Patton's Mondo Cane + Anthony Pateras - State Theatre (17.01.12)

Mike Patton needs no introduction. His history with bands like Faith No More and Mr Bungle has virtually made him a household name. His other projects such as Fantomas, Tomahawk and Peeping Tom have further secured his reputation as an uncompromising, twisted and true pioneering genius.

No doubt his latest project, Mondo Cane, will happily find a home for itself on the playlists of existing Patton fans and newcomers alike thanks to its uncanny accessibility. Sure, Mondo Cane is at times camp 1960s-inspired pop and at turns Italian film musical soundtrack and always totally Patton. And yes, it’s all sung in Italian; meaning you’re never quite sure if Patton is having a laugh at your expense as you try to sing along, unknowingly reciting some cookie recipe or self-deprecating slur.

Tonight, as part of the 2012 Sydney Festival, Mike Patton is playing his second straight night in the grand old State Theatre. The crowd is mixed and only the smallest percentage is made up of 30-something FNM fans in faded t-shirts and baggy shorts. All ages and social castes are well represented: from a young girl with her mother to the occasional metal head right through to the snooty-looking, wine-sipping folks with an air of affluence.

Opening up tonight’s show is Melbourne composer Anthony Pateras. A previous Mike Patton collaborator, Pateras has had music released by legendary noise maker John Zorn and his compositions also featured n the Wolf Creek soundtrack.

Highlighted by spotlights as he approaches the grand piano alone dressed in a loose t-shirt, baggy shorts and some snazzy sandals, I doubt anyone in the audience is ready for the haunting, jarring and ultimately moving 30-minute piece of music this unassuming-looking gentleman is about to unleash upon them.

As the opening bars of the music ring out from the keys, the volume and intensity swells and recedes like ethereal waves flooding the theatre – the occasional stab of seemingly random notes blasting from the piano as he hits them with his elbow - you’re not sure if Pateras is a crazy genius or just plain crazy. At times dissonant squall and at times gentle auditory abuse, the single piece of music is like the soundtrack to your own personal nightmare and it’s no doubt polarising the audience’s opinions like the asylum seeker issue. He’s clearly the perfect accompaniment to a Mike Patton show.

By the time Pateras makes his humble departure the venue is close to capacity. Considering this will be Patton’s third performance in the city in short succession, it’s impossible to deny his obvious appeal that seemingly knows no social, racial or age-related bounds. Before long, the lights dim once more and the musicians begin to take the stage.

We’re not sure if Patton hires his musicians himself, but it must have taken him a while to find so many attractive and talented female performers. Sydney-based group The Accidentals make up the extensive string section tonight, with the remainder of the group consisting Patton’s regular hired guns including three gorgeous Italian backing singers. It’s a big line-up with an extremely complex instrumentation; but Patton has a history of being able to pull off intricate pieces in the live environment – take Mr Bungle’s perverse, complicated pieces for example. This writer has seen them perform on two occasions and both times saw flawless performances.

Tonight is no exception.

Everyone on stage is dressed in black, save for Patton himself who walks on stage to huge applause dressed in a blinding white suit akin to what we saw him wear during the recent FNM reunion shows – complete with slicked back hair and looking every bit the Italian crooner. Without a single word, he and the band launch into the first number. His enunciation is perfect and his pitch impeccable. The guy is a freak!

While he might be trying to portray a suave pop crooner, Patton can’t help but be himself, which usually means going a little psycho whenever things get a bit louder. At each crescendo or sonic stab, he’s hitting his trademark squats or pulling mental faces as he hits the big notes. It’s also nice to see him clearly having so much fun and having so much interaction with the other musicians. This is definitely no mere Mike Patton show.

Tonight’s performance includes the entire Mondo Cane album as well as a few additional tracks to fill out the set that runs well over an hour long with very little banter. Even the non-album tracks are superbly orchestrated and supremely performed by the band and Patton both. What an event this has been.

By the final number people have started to walk to the front of the stage to dance and get a closer look at what a number of the women in attendance clearly see as a sex symbol. The ushers try to stem the flow in vain as a few turn into dozens and before you know it, the venue is looking much more like the host to a rock gig. When Patton and the group return to the stage for an expected two-song encore, it culminates in that same little girl we mentioned earlier taking to the stage where she earns the envy of all the ladies in the audience – Patton serenades her.

By the end of the night, most of the audience is on their feet. It’s a testament to Patton’s commitment to giving a quality performance regardless of difficulty and an undying desire to create a back catalogue that includes some of the most disparate albums you’re ever likely to find in one man’s resume. There’s no one else like him and the tag of genius never more fitting.