Mr. Bungle Columbiafritz, Berlin (August 21)
Call them, as CNN did, "on the outer edges of the avant-garde," but love Mr. Bungle because they opened with a spot-on death metal version of Billy Squier's "Stroke Me." The night saw them push every envelope from Zappa to Zorn and back again. They turned on a dime between bursts of free jazz, tango, country, techno, metal and Naked City-style noise. Frontman Mike Patton (late of Faith No More and currently with scary noise experiment Fantomas) crooned, screamed and lullabied in at least four languages.
Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn tried to identify with the local crowd by dressing like the St. Pauli Girl, complete with blonde pigtails. He and Patton showed off their command of the German language by cursing auf Deutsch. "Why does every American rock band feel like they have to come here and say shit and fuck in German?" a guy behind me asked his friend.
Bungle have long since ditched their goofy/spooky aura (they used to tour wearing masks and would only list pseudonyms on album credits). Their latest album, California, is the closest thing to a collection of honest-to-goodness songs the band has produced to date. They are difficult, complicated, genre-fucking, science-fiction-movies-as-songs, but they are songs, still. With titles like "None of Them Knew They Were Robots" and "Air Conditioned Nightmare," California could be the soundtrack to a Philip K. Dick novel.
Before the show, a group of Teva-clad backpacking American college grads were trying to uncover the sociology of German rock crowds. "Do they mosh over here?" one asked another. Yes, when they can, but tonight it was only in spurts. Bungle can be as heavy as Slayer, but their guitar crunches disappear quickly and are wrapped around Middle Eastern rhythms, loping basslines and odd samples. California's most straightforward tune, "Sweet Charity," was done as an almost-bossa-nova, and Patton sang it as a torch song. The crowd favorite "My Ass Is on Fire" was given a pretty impressive drum and bass overhaul.
"Hey Berlin, I'm having a lot of fun up here," Patton told the crowd. "I think I made a Scheisse in my Hosen." Then they launched into "Travolta (Quote Unquote)," from 1991's John Zorn-produced Mr. Bungle. The song is a commentary on the masculine in modern celebrity. Or something. Anyway, it has cool lyrics like this: "With his mouth sewn shut, he still shakes his butt. Cuz he's Hitler & Swayze & Trump & Travoltaaaah." The song's grinding chorus became a singalong: "He's a bird in flight, a hermaphrodite, and he fucks himself as he fucks the wooooorld."
At one point Patton pointed at a guy up front and shouted "Skinhead!" Then, wanting a show of hands, he asked who in the audience had been beaten up by skinheads recently. Possibly disappointed by the lack of response, he dedicated Jerry Reed's "I Feel for You" to the alleged skinhead, who I think just had an unfortunately short haircut but who seemed pretty pleased nonetheless.
And so it went. Loud soft loud. A French pop tune. "Metti Una Sera' a Cena" by Ennio Morricone. A few soulful verses from Destiny's Child ("Say my name, say my name"). Ten minutes of feedback. A guy in front of me booed occasionally, but I don't think he was unhappy, I just think he was confused.
Neil Young PNC Arts Center (August 19)
Allegedly Neil forgot some lyrics at a show recently, but on a cool, clear evening in New Jersey this summer, Mr. Young showed no such sign of aging. Most importantly (and unlike many mature rockers), I didn't once wish I was seeing his act 25 years ago, and as my boyfriend observed, "Now that they found out even the Boss is usin' fake sweat," that's really saying something.
We missed the Pretenders' opening set, although their bass player is an acquaintance of mine, and like he's always telling Chrissie, "They wanna hear 'Brass in Pocket,' don't they?" And Chrissie, bless her heart, doesn't much like doing "Brass in Pocket" anymore. The beer line took 45 minutes, but once we waded through all the high school jocks with fitted caps smoking Swisher Sweets, we found a nice spot on the lawn?the perfect place to hold hands and hear "Harvest Moon." A man who can still write lyrics like, "In the meadow dust/I park my Aerostar/With a loaded gun/And sweet dreams of you," Neil does not offer many lemons. However, among the notables were "I Believe in You," "Winterlong," "Unknown Legend" and "Cowgirl in the Sand," which was the first time I watched my Uncle Buck hit repeat and get drunk to a Neil Young song on a weeknight?but not the last. Even tracks that aren't exactly my favorites, like "Tonight's the Night," proved spine-tinglers as Neil started out on guitar and then moved to piano-playing/foot-stomping position. And when he said, "He sang a song/In a shaky voice/That was real as the day was long," I realized it wasn't Bruce Berry he was talking about.
A reporter once asked Neil if he had a concept behind each album or some grand, overarching scheme for his career. Neil seemed a little shocked and explained he was simply singing his life. I for one will be sad when it ends.