Umlaut with Dr. El Suavo at The Spanish Club, Melbourne – Gig review and photos

June 17, 2010
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The Gig: Umlaut with Dr. El Suavo and Mandek Penha
Where: The Spanish Club, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
When: 12 June 2010
In One Word: Magic

Dr El Suavo at The Spanish Club, Melbourne, 12 June 2010 - photo by Michael Bowser, Music Vice

It would be something of a crime, methinks, for such a die-hard Mr Bungle fan as yours truly to miss a local show featuring one of its key players, namely saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Clinton “Bär” McKinnon.  Seems the gent moved to Melbourne some years back, where he formed a new band called Umlaut.  But first, a word or two about our evening’s support acts.

I regrettably miss opening act Trav Nash, but hey, for me to catch three out of four bands on a bill must surely qualify as some sort of record..?  The act that graces the stage when I wander into the expanses of The Spanish Club, then, is some crazy outfit called Mandek Penha.  Now I say “crazy” outfit, but what I really mean is completely and utterly BATSHIT:  A balaclava’d ensemble featuring all manner of instrumentalists and some white-clad lunatic who vocalises, plays guitar and conducts ceremonies from front of stage.  Mandek Penha is basically what one (presumably) gets if members of TISM, Mr Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3 were to embark upon a rape-rampage through a nunnery.  If that doesn’t sound unwholesome enough, add to this the fact that the frontman dude appears to take the utmost pleasure in showing off just what a misogynistic bastard he is by inviting some (also balaclava’d) girl up on stage and encouraging her to sing whilst she kneels at his feet and he pats her head like a faithful dog.  Suffice it to say, I LOVED these guys.  Oh yeah, and the music was pretty darn fine also:  If you’re the kind of person who appreciates post-Bungley madness minus the “metal” bits, with a hearty dose of gleeful synth-poppiness and faux-orchestral pomposity in its place, then there is much to love here.  Inspired lunacy indeed!

Next up is Dr. El Suavo.  Not exactly a “music” act – hell, not a music act at all! – but rather a “magic” one.  Billed as the “World’s Crankiest Magician”, I’m not exactly convinced that he’s the most TALENTED magician around, but fuck me silly if he ain’t the most piss-funny one it has ever been my dubious pleasure to endure.  An early idea of what to expect comes in the form of him holding up a few of those big interlinking metal rings that magic-types favour so much, and asking of the audience:  “Have you seen the ring trick before?”  Upon some members of the audience answering in the affirmative, he tosses the rings aside with words to the effect of:  “Good.  I don’t have to do that one then.”  Okay, so maybe you “had to be there”, but his flawless comic delivery certainly had me in stitches, a state I remained in for much of the show.  Crass and frequently “dumb”, yes, but a laugh-riot just the same…and trust me, I generally LOATHE stand-up comedy acts.  Thank God for at least one exception to every rule…

Onto the headliners.  Clearly much of the audience here tonight – and it’s a modestly-sized but rapt one just the same – are here to bathe in the illustrious presence of an ex-Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3 member.  Fortunately, Umlaut do not disappoint, at least as long as one’s expectations aren’t preposterously high.  Those “glory days” may appear well-and-truly over – then again, Mike Patton denied any chance of a Faith No More reunion, didn’t he? – but it’s great to see that Mr Bungle’s most famous “graduate” wasn’t the only one to go on to do excellent work.  As one might expect from a project lacking a steady lead vocalist this is, much like Secret Chiefs or Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant, a predominantly instrumental affair…and Mr McKinnon has assembled quite an impressive array of instrumentalists to this end.  Not quite as visually theatrical as the two be-masked acts on prior to it, what Umlaut perhaps lacks “gimmick”-wise it more than makes up for in substance.  Jazzy, wacky, sophisticated, challenging:  All of these adjectives fit quite nicely, thank you very much.  I read somewhere that Bär is a tad busy these days with being a family man and what-not, and while one obviously wishes him all the best in this regard, here’s hoping he finds more time for musical dabblings in the future as well.

All up, one helluva good night out for those who like their music both shaken AND stirred.

© Michael Bowser, Music Vice

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