Faith No More wreak anarchy in the UK. William Shaw reports from London and Manchester.
Details | September 1992
Twist of Faith
By William Shaw
No one put a pistol to their heads and told them they had to
tour with Guns N' Roses. Faith No More thought it would be good for their bank
balance. Now, after three weeks of shows, they're bored silly.
Monday they arrive in London from Paris. Tuesday morning,
singer Mike Patton gets a phone call in his Kensington hotel room telling him
tonight's show in Manchester has been cancelled. Axl Rose is suffering from
exhaustion. Patton, looking a bit like an auto mechanic no one would trust,
howls like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard. Downstairs an unshaven,
dispirited bass player sits in the lobby. Unlike Patton, Billy Gould says he
was looking forward to tonight's concert, if only because it would give him
something to do. "But I can understand how Axl would be kind of exhausted,
with this rigorous schedule of ours," he dead pans.
So far, the Guns N' Roses European tour is averaging two concerts per week. FNM are used to gigging six nights out of seven.
There's something else about the tour that makes them itchy.
In the last three years, FNM have transformed themselves from down-at-the-heel
Bay Area misfits to unlikely platinum rock stars. As such, FNM should be appropriate
road companions for GNR. But FNM don't share a common musical goal so much as a
collective loathing for good taste. The whole stadium-tour circus bugs them.
"I wouldn't go to the show," Patton tells me about
their upcoming date at Wembley. "It's a spectator sport. If we can be
annoying, then we've accomplished something. I think."
From their first cult hit, "We Care a Lot," 1985's
sarcastic riposte to the Live Aid generation, to "Midlife Crisis,"
this year's scathing assault on the thirty something set, FNM have always traded
on their snot-nosed anti-establishmentarianism. The band started out ten years
ago when a quiet, dreadlocked drummer named Mike "Puffy" Bordin
hooked up with keyboard player Roddy Bottum, who looked like the villain from a
Jim Jarmusch film, and Billy Gould, a genial, bass-playing slob. In need of a
guitarist they hooked up with the Muppet-like figure of "Big" Jim
Martin, an old-fashioned guitar regressive. Martin wears two pairs of glasses,
drinks a lot, and loves FNM groupies. He announces rather proudly that he
hasn't yet received one Father's Day card. In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey,
Martin cameos as "The World's Greatest Guitarist."
Finding a singer to suit the band's outlook took longer.
Hole's Courtney Love sang a few dates with them, but the group say they were
too macho for her ("I spoke to her last night," says Roddy.
"She's my best friend..."). For their first two LPs they were fronted
by Chuck Mosley. "We Care a Lot" won them an adoring college
audience, but by 1989 the big break hadn't come yet. The band were ready to
split. "Our singer was fucked up, and we hated him," remembers Billy,
matter-of-factly. So they sacked Chuck and replaced him with Mike Patton, from
a little-known California cult outfit, Mr. Bungle. Suddenly it all made sense.
The year Patton enrolled, they recorded The Real Thing. It
was a maverick album, a fractious and improbable amalgam of West Coast punk
nihilism, baroque progressive rock, and funk thrash that lurched unexpectedly
from style to style. It sat around on the shelves for six months before anyone
noticed. Then it started to take off. By early 1990, MTV had latched onto the
sneery rock/rap of their single "Epic," which climbed to number five
on the charts. Before they knew it, FNM were in the big pool, swimming through
a promotional tour that was to last two years and end with them supporting
Billy Idol and Robert Plant.
Now, this year's Angel Dust manages to repeat the trick that
The Real Thing pulled off so well, somehow containing the group's explicitly
separate visions of what they really should be doing on the one album. Angel
Dust is easily just as misanthropic as previous FNM records, but this time Mike
Patton has given full rein to all of his voyeuristic obsessions. Each song is a
piece of cruel theater, a chunk of twentieth-century Gothic melodrama. From the
sexual sado-masochism of "Be Aggressive," to the sicko drug violence
of "Crack Hitler," the LP is the most brutal music the band has ever
produced. Typically, FNM set the rough stuff against ironic, sweet moments,
such as their easy-listening cover version of the theme from the film Midnight
The sleeve of Angel Dust features a picture of a beautiful
white bird on the front cover and a slaughterhouse on the back. These sorts of
inversions are central to the FNM world view, whatever that is. Billy studied
Nietzsche at college and still invokes him bizarrely. "Nietzsche says, 'I
make the rainbow of urine over the world, but the world is never slow to
reciprocate,'" Gould laughs.
"These are the most boring shows I've been to,"
complains Patton. "The crowd is so safe. Backstage is so boring. All we do
is eat..." Patton is intensity incarnate. He's from the backwoods of
Eureka, California, a place he describes as "a sick redwood cocoon,
hippies on one side, loggers on the other." Having escaped from a place
like that, Mike doesn't want to miss out on anything.
With tonight cancelled, it will be a week between shows. The
band have nothing to do until Saturday. The time off leaves them exhausted.
They're starting to feel flabby, out of shape.
I take Gould and Patton for a meal in Portobello Road. They
start talking unguardedly about touring with GNR. Out it all pours. Patton
claims one crew member got sacked just for bumping into Axl when the singer was
changing costumes one night. Warming to the theme, Gould says that he heard Axl
hired an exorcist because he believed he was possessed by the spirit of the
dead AC/DC singer Bon Scott. (GNR's publicist later denies both of these tales,
adding that "it's physically impossible for anyone to bump into
Axl.") They paint Axl as a cranky headmaster that everyone's afraid of.
But their stories are backstage hearsay. The fact is, they never get to see Axl
much at all.
One of Axl's minders has told Patton that Axl really likes
Mr. Bungle. The minder says Axl wants to get into something heavier, more
industrial. "Industrial," laughs Patton maniacally, banging the
table. "That's sick!"
They have sampled Axl's voice and used it a few times in
their stage act, but no one seems to notice. GNR don't watch their shows.
Patton thinks they may sometimes watch them over the monitors from their
backstage area, but he's not sure.
In the restaurant, Patton shares a secret. Axl has TV
screens on stage that display the song words in case he forgets them. On the
last night of the tour, Mike Patton tells me he wants "to take a shit
right on top of those TV screens, in front of tens of thousands of
After lunch we visit Honest Jon's Records, then Vinyl
Solution, where we bump into Puffy, who's making the same devoted trawl. It's a
West Indian area, and Patton and Billy want to buy some grass on nearby St.
Paul's road. Puffy isn't interested.
Mike "Puffy" Bordin confides to me he's worried
FNM will get thrown off this tour because of the way the band is behaving.
They're too unguarded about slagging GNR.
When I tell Patton this, he wheezes with laughter.
"See?" he says. "That's what he's frightened of, but that's what
excites me the most." Mike's eyes shine. "Three weeks into the tour
and we're already pushing it. We're going to spend the summer with these guys.
To me there's nothing... no real reason why we're doing this tour. I mean, it
makes real business sense, but on a personal level we have to provoke. To me,
that's our duty."
Later, we gravitate to a pub. Rain clouds gather outside.
Patton orders a pint of snakebite -- a mixture of cider and lager beloved by
English soccer hooligans -- but the barman refuses to serve it. "We don't
do them anymore. We had too much trouble." So Patton orders a pint of
cider. Billy drinks lager. When we've finished those we have another.
"What time is it?" sighs Patton. "Five o'clock? Is that
all?" They would be on stage right now.
A Canadian fan shows up, and Patton discusses pornography
with him. Mike is an avid consumer, an almost evangelical advocate of
autoerotism. Unlike Martin, real sexual interaction leaves Patton cold. He
calls phone-sex lines, but not live ones. "You don't call a 970 number because
you want to talk," he explains. "That's not why I try it. I don't
know why. I've always had a problem with interaction. I'm just not that good at
Mike Patton says his adventures in self-stimulation began at
an early age. He remembers humping the couch in prepubescent days while
watching Gilligan's Island. "I did it in front of everyone," he
smirks, "even my parents. I mean, I think it was very healthy in one
respect, and very twisted in another..." As he goes on, Mike looks at me
for signs of embarrassment.
His other group, Mr. Bungle, sometimes perform in bondage
masks. Patton collects them. "Those kind of masks are the most
unfathomable, completely space-age thing, but I think they appeal to an
instinct that's completely primitive. I have ones with horse bits and blinders,
I have ones with tubes and pumps, one with zippers, regular gags. Do I wear
them? Yeah, yeah. They have applications in real life. Though I can't say I'm
into S&M. I experiment with it. You kind of owe it to yourself."
Perhaps it's because of his demonic on stage charisma, or
because his lyrics delve into themes of dominance and powerlessness, but Patton
sometimes gets weird letters from fans. He's only written back once. "She
started sending gifts and somehow twisted around the idea that I wanted to
dominate her, you know? She called me her master... She said, 'I'll do anything
for you. I'm your devoted slave.'" Soon she began inventing wild stories
about Patton and his friends beating her and sexually abusing her. Now Patton
doesn't answer letters anymore.
Back at the hotel, it seems Jim Martin has bailed. He's gone
to visit an old Scottish drinking buddy who lives in Birmingham. That night, I
take Roddy, Billy, and Patton to the cinema to see Delicatessan. I pay, because
their per diem allowances are running low. Afterwards, Roddy Bottum splits and
ends up at the Limelight, talking to a conductor "called Michael Thomas
something." It turns out he's Michael Tilson Thomas, the principal
conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He wants to come and see them at
the Wembley show.
Thursday, Mike Patton gets drunk on cider. On the way back
from the pub to his hotel he stops outside Kensington Palace -- just by the
hotel -- where Prince Charles and Lady Di live. Patton drops his trousers and
takes a dump on a park bench by the palace.
That night Billy and Roddy are in Amsterdam to see L7 and
the Rollins Band. Billy buys a priest's robes in a flea market there. He's
already picked up an East German Trabant car that someone gave him at an
earlier date in Stuttgart: "It's so cool. It pollutes so bad."
"Did you HEAR what Patton did?" giggles Billy,
just off the plane from Amsterdam. "The turd is still there." He
disappears to unpack his priest's robes and put them on in the hotel bar.
"I have kind of a problem," explains Patton. I
don't like to use toilets -- ever." Mike says it stems from a childhood
fear of invasive insects in the bathroom. But the singer has turned his
aversion to the W.C. into a form of scatological terrorism. Without batting an
eyelid, he recounts a story about a meanie club owner who locked Patton and the
rest of Mr. Bungle up in his club because he claimed they owed him money. He
left the man a special gift in the club's microwave oven. "It started out
being a problem, but now it's more of a weapon than anything," Patton
That night-- the night before Wembley -- the group go out.
Roddy visits Madame Jo-Jo's, London's most famous transvestite club. Patton
goes to a kitsch strip joint, where he watches the performers do fire-eating
Saturday is the day when the group finally get to play a
concert, one week after their last performance in Paris. Gathering in the hotel
lobby to catch the tour bus, the overwhelming feeling is one of resignation. In
May, FNM played a well-advertised "secret" date at London's Marquee
Club under the name Haircuts that Kill. "We're playing Wembley in
June," Patton announced from the stage. "Don't come."
Billy opts to catch the Tube to Wembley, because he has
heard that there is a drugstore along the way that stocks Somatomax, which he
says is a slimming drug with side effects. "What does it do? It fucks you
up," he grins. "The first time, I took it at a nightclub. I woke up
on the toilet with my trousers round my ankles."
By the tour-bus stereo, there's a David Sylvian CD. In four
pieces. Patton puts on a tape a friend has sent him of songs recorded by
educationally disadvantaged children. It features songs with titles like
"I Got a New Car," and "Throw Away the Trash," sung in
eager, bright-eyed voices. "I love this album," declares Patton. He
jumps up and down in the narrow bus corridor. Everybody laughs.
At the stadium, a fan is waiting. Kerry is ex-British army.
He spent some time in Northern Ireland. This will be his fifty-ninth FNM
concert. His nose is pierced with little horns that protrude from his nostrils
and he wears a t-shirt that he designed himself. It features a picture of a man
masturbating on a toilet and the caption: GIRLS ARE OK, BUT THEY'RE NOT THE
REAL THING. FNM love it.
T-shirts are an integral part of the FNM look. In the bland
backstage area, they change into their stage wear. Patton changes into a shirt
that features the Route 666 logo of a Texas noise band. Jim martin puts on one
that sports the moniker of his favorite defunct metal band, the Mentors.
Slash, Duff, and Matt from GNR appear in a rehearsal room
down the corridor and start jamming. Slash is wearing a t-shirt that says
"Fuck." A cigarette pokes out through a mass of hair.
Queen's Brian May appears, looking sheepish in white clogs
and a loud shirt. He plugs in a guitar and joins in the jam, rehearsing a GNR
encore he's going to play on.
Jim watches them rehearse. "What's up, Satan?" he
calls to Slash.
Slash looks up. "Hey," he waves at Jim,
"where'd you get that shirt?"
FNM don't get a soundcheck. They haven't had one all tour.
Behind the stacks of gear, they wait to go on. One GNR flight case lays open,
drawers marked with roadie jokes like "Lesbian Awareness Literature"
or "Spare Panties." Billy lolls his head around, looking depressed.
"People ask, 'Don't you get excited when you get onstage?'" he tells
me. "For these gigs, it's more like I finally get to the head of the line
in the department of motor vehicles."
Roddy, chain-smoking, explains that at concerts like this,
even the audience knows how to perform. "They cheer the first group a
little, the next band more, and so on."
Afterward, the group sit backstage in painful silence. After
cooling their heels for a week, and pulling a hundred stupid stunts to pass the
time before their show, they come away hating the set. They thought they
Kerry, the pierced fan, disagrees, swearing it was a great
show. The band's reaction to the show has more to do with their own depressed
state of mind than anything else. In reality it was a riveting performance,
dominated by Patton's frantic charisma. He'll crouch down on his haunches like
a medieval gargoyle, then spring up and fling himself forward until his feet
sail over his head and he'll slap back down on the stage, barking out dementedly
the whole time. Before launching into a song, he'll boom out at the crowd of
70,000, "I bet you feel pretty stupid out there."
"Actually," Roddy says, in the dressing room
post-match analysis, "I've got to say, Sometimes, Mike, you come off a little
Mike Patton looks destroyed. Billy's face is a mask of
depression. They all need to talk. They no longer have any perspective on how
good a show FNM put on.
That night I will drive Roddy three hundred miles to a rave
on the Yorkshire moors near Manchester. He's looking for something to do. We
won't mention Wembley. The Manchester show has been rescheduled for tomorrow.
Patton wants to come to the rave too, but he's put his back out with the
on stage flips.
But now, I follow Jim Martin out of the room. He's the only
one who doesn't look bummed. "it was a sluggish, ponderous, sloppy show...
but I had fun," he says. Then he sees a pretty woman wandering about
backstage in a fishnet top and bra. Jim makes a beeline straight for her.
"Hi," he says, "Tell me something new."
"I don't know anything new," the woman answers,