Mr. Bungle is currently in the midst of a marathon leg of their tour, hitting eight cities in ten days. The tour, which is Mr. Bungle’s first venture up the east coast in 23 years, hit Montclair’s Wellmont Theater Saturday night with Battles supporting.
I was first introduced to Battles by way of seeing them perform at Bonnaroo back in 2008. I remember being captivated by the band’s musicianship – the power of their performance, the unique sounds that they created and how they put them all together to build their avant-garde compositions. Battles was a trio at that time and has since become a duo, but the band delivered a performance in New Jersey that was just as powerful as the first time that I saw them.
Opening with “The Yabba”, multi-instrumentalist Ian Williams immediately got to work as he showed off the impressive coordination required to play his part of everything but the drums. Drummer John Stanier held the beat with stellar precision and a passion put into every swing of his sticks. With his trademark crash symbol standing high above his kit, Stanier’s ability to reach it without issue is only but one of his many impressive talents as a drummer; he is mesmerizing to watch.
Battles’ set drew heavily from their 2019 album, “Juice B Crypts” with a few classic tracks making appearances, namely “Atlas”, which was awesome to get to hear live again. The band’s experimental sound got the crowd energized and moving, and served as the perfect musical precursor to Mr. Bungle.
There was a palpable feeling of anticipation in the air prior to Mr. Bungle taking the stage as the packed crowd of fans waited eagerly to cross the band off of their concert bucket lists. It had been over two decades since the band had played in New Jersey, after all; some of the younger fans in attendance hadn’t even been born yet. This is all to say that when those house lights went down, the place went nuts.
After opening with the atmospheric “Grizzly Adams”, Mr. Bungle dove right into the face-melting with “Sudden Death“. They played their new album, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, in its entirety over the course of the set along with a handful of covers thrown in as well. “If you thought that was heavy…” vocalist Mike Patton commented after a killer performance of “Bungle Grind“, building the anticipation to a humorous reveal as their next song was a cover of 10CC’s classic ballad, “I’m Not in Love“.
A pleasant surprise was the band’s nod to drummer Dave Lombardo’s legendary past with a jam of the Slayer classic, “Hell Awaits“. The circle pit, which had already been in full force throughout the set, went particularly wild at that point, and understandably so.
There is surely a more eloquent way for me to say this, but Mr. Bungle’s show was super fun. Mr. Bungle is a band that makes seriously heavy music but doesn’t take itself too seriously (as if song titles like “Anarchy Up Your Anus” didn’t already make that clear). Their performance was a party that you never wanted to end, and though it inevitably did, you were left with plenty of good vibes to take home with you.
As is my standard, I shot the show using a 24-70mm lens on one camera body and a 70-200mm lens on the other. I had my settings on Shutter Priority mode, with my shutter set to 1/200 and my ISO set to Auto, with a max of 3200 ISO. Though maxed out (3200 ISO and f/2.8) in almost every shot, the settings worked great for both Battles and Mr. Bungle; I had to do minimal exposure boosting in Lightroom.
Battles being a duo made it easy to cover my bases quickly. I spent some time focused on Ian Williams, then John Stanier, a few wide shots of them both, then back to Williams, and so on. With that said, it took some time to find the right vantage points where you could shoot past the various obstructions. For Stanier, it was a snare mic and the kit itself; for Williams, his keys and pedals. This was a fun challenge that ultimately paid off as I was able to find some interesting perspectives as a result of having to hunt for them.
I’ve talked ad nauseam at this point about my tendency to not get enough variation of shots of drummers, or shots of them in general. I mention it only because of the irony that in Battles’ case, I did the opposite. I became fixated on trying to capture a few different shots of John Stanier that required some waiting, e.g. Stanier hitting his crash cymbal. In doing so, I ended up having to play catchup towards the end of the third song when I realized I hadn’t spent enough time shooting Ian Williams. Thankfully I was able to get a handful of shots of Williams prior to the end of the song, and I walked out of the photo pit feeling confident that I had gotten what I needed.
Shooting Mr. Bungle was inherently intimidating due to the band members all being rock legends. It was hard to decide who to focus on first. While Battles was a duo, Mr, Bungle is a five-piece – I had my work cut out for me.
I started on stage right with guitarist Trey Spruance. A cooling fan pointed toward Spruance blew his hair around which made him look majestic as hell, and made it easy for me to get some solid shots of him. Spruance and other guitarist Scott Ian proved to be the “easiest” to shoot, primarily due to having comparatively less obstructions to shoot around or through.
Vocalist Mike Patton had two music stands and a mic stand in front of him, and while he moved the mic stand out of the way, the music stands remained. The stands looked to be a bigger challenge than they ended up being; Patton was moving all over the stage and provided plenty of opportunities to get shots without the stands in the way. That said, it did require a bit of attention.
Drummer Dave Lombardo had the typical challenges that come with shooting drummers, and his kit offered only one real vantage point from which to get a clear shot. Bassist Trevor Dunn didn’t have any visual obstructions to manage, but he tended to hang back toward his amps so I wasn’t able to get many tight compositions of him.
I found myself coming back to Scott Ian a lot because he is a lot of fun to shoot – he always looks like he’s having a blast. For that matter, the whole band appeared to be having a blast. And I was too.