Serj Tankian and Fantomas @ The Enmore Theatre, Sydney (24/01/09)

Fantomas is, put simply, unlike anything you have ever heard or will ever hear. Mike Patton is a genius. And no, that’s not a matter of opinion. Anyone who can walk the oh-so-fine-line between noise and sound without the slightest hint of faltering should, at the very least, be granted such a description. For the dedicated fans who were at the show, this is nothing new. For those who hadn’t witnessed Fantomas, the performance was certainly an education in what music can be if you disregard preconceived notions of what you think it should be.

Tonight’s set selection came from the album The Director’s Cut, a compilation of well-known movie themes that have been reinterpreted and rearranged including such classic scores as Cape Fear and The Godfather. It’s only when presented live by a collection of highly experienced musicians like Osborne, Dunn, Crover and of course Patton, that you realise how powerful and engaging these re-workings are. The innate synchronicity that exists between each member allowed Patton to direct them easily through their bipolar music. It’s evil and intense one minute, then beautifully serene the next. It was clear from the many engrossed faces in the crowd that the band’s eclectic and at times entrancing music had the audience captivated for the way too-short 40 minute set.

Even with famed Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo noticeably absent from the line up, Dale Crover, drummer for The Melvins, ensured that there was no cause for complaint. The cricket outfits worn by the band added a playful element, as did the point in the performance where Mike had the audience throw bottles at him that he attempted to return with a cricket bat. Unsuccessfully, I might add. But I guess who needs cricket skills when you have a beautifully insane musical mind?

Serj Tankian is one brave man. Anyone who chooses to follow Mike and his merry men is either supremely confident or needs their head checked. Nevertheless, the System of A Down lead singer appeared on-stage with The Unthinking Majority from his solo album Elect The Dead. Backed by his black top hat wearing band, The Flying Cunts of Chaos, Serj used his amazing vocal acrobatics to switch from screaming to crooning and everything in between. Like a crazy rabbi-style ringmaster, he danced around the stage waving his tattered white top hat as he went.

The political edge to his music is not so subtle. In fact, it pretty much smacks you in the face like a sledgehammer: especially when Serj explained his displeasure in the obvious conflict between government’s focus on religion and warfare. To make his point he got the audience to chant “praise the lord, pass the ammunition” as a segue into the track of the same name. Empty Walls got a positive reception, with Serj standing aside to allow the punters to sing the chorus at the top of their lungs. Then came Money, reworked with the addition of some Abba lyrics throughout the song.

Rounding out the night was the obligatory encore, in which Serj slowed things down a bit with the beautiful piano of title track Elect the Dead. It brought a nice contrast to some of the heavier songs performed throughout the night. Ending on a cover of Space Oddity by David Bowie cemented Serj’s place as an adaptable musician able to keep an audience entertained with his skill and playful theatrics.

However, in the end, even though Serj Tankian fought the good fight (in a top hat no less), it was Fantomas that stole the show. Let this be a lesson to any bands reading this: if you wanna be the centre of attention, never choose a support act that involves Mike Patton.