Old dog, new tricks

Singer extraordinaire Mike Patton comes to Israel with a full orchestra.

Mike Patton (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mike Patton
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Man of 1,000 Faces” was the nickname that stuck to 1920s ’30s horror-film actor Lon Cheney, for his mastery of makeup and versatility in portraying silver-screen monsters from the werewolf of London to the hunchback of Notre Dame.
In the same vein, “Man of 1,000 Voices” could aptly describe the versatility of musician extraordinaire Mike Patton, who comes here on August 3 with his show Mondo Cane.
Patton started his musical career in the mid 1980s with California’s Mr. Bungle – a band that meshed heavy metal guitar with funky brass and also strayed into everything from klezmer to electronic loop-based music. But he achieved celebrity status when he took over vocal duties for Faith No More, which he also fronted during the band’s reunion show in Israel last year. In between the dissolution of Bungle and FNM, Patton established his own band – Fantomas – which has put out five albums to date, and also fronted another hard rock outfit, Tomahawk.
Since the mid-1990s, apart from records with his mainstay bands, Patton worked on a plethora of side projects of his own and with dozens of other musicians. Notable among those are his collaborations with Jewish avant-garde sax player John Zorn, an experimental voice-only album of his own music (Adult Themes for Voice), his vocal contributions to the works of composer Eyvind Kang and his work on many of the albums published by Ipecac Recordings, a label he co-founded in 1999.
What is common to all these endeavors is Patton’s vocal ability; from crooning to growling, high falsetto to deep baritone, beatboxing to whispering, he has arguably one of the best all-around voices in the music industry. The only reason his virtuosity has not catapulted him to stadium-filling fame is his predilection for music that transcends traditional style definitions and his avoidance of sycophancy with the pop-chart crowds.
ODDLY, IT is with Mondo Cane that Patton gets closest to straight pop, albeit from the 1960s.
Mondo Cane (Italian for “It’s a dog’s world”) is named after a notorious Italian B-movie from 1962.
The flick was so successful that it spawned a trail of imitations, many of which were billed as sequels to draw filmgoers in.
The songs on Mondo Cane are all newly arranged cover versions of Italian pop hits from the 1960s. In concert and on the album (culled from live performances), Patton is accompanied by a 30-strong orchestra and chorus. Most pieces are by obscure composers, little known outside Italy, such as Luigi Tenco, Gino Paoli and Fred Bongusto. One selection is by Italian soundtrack king Ennio Morricone.
The lyrics – in Italian, of course – are the regular fare: Adventure, romance, broken hearts and the like. Patton’s approach to the music, however, is one of respect, not irony. He stated that he took on the project because he believes in the songs’ musical value, despite their apparent lowbrow orientation.
The arrangements differ from the originals but certainly retain their spirit. Fluent in Italian after having been married to an Italian woman and living in Bologna, Patton even took care to learn the proper accent for one song in Sicilian, a dialect spoken in the south of the country.
Israel is lucky that Alive Productions managed to book Patton to come with a plane-full of musicians to Israel; the Mondo Cane orchestra’s world tour itinerary lists performances in only seven countries.
Mondo Cane will be performed on Tuesday, August 3, 7:30 p.m. at the Ra’anana Ampitheater. Tickets, ranging from NIS 200 to NIS 400, can be purchased at the Hadran ticket office.