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April 17, 2007

Michael Patton's Peeping Tom unleashes long-awaited pop for the indie crowd

Michael Patton is something of an enigma in alternative music circles. Descriptions like unpredictable, inventive, and even genius have been tossed around. From his antics as the leader of 1980s experimental rock group Faith No More to his highly anticipated “pop” album (in the making since 2002) Peeping Tom, he has always warranted attention and respect. The latter project features eclectic contributors, including Bebel Gilberto, Norah Jones, Kool Keith, Massive Attack, Rahzel, Dub Trio, Odd Nosdam, and Amon Tobin.

Rock critic Greg Prato considers Patton to be one of the “most talented singers in rock music.” From his beat-boxing and high-pitched shrieks to his airy falsetto, Patton’s vocal arsenal was on full display Sunday night at Park West—along with the rest of his character.

Escorted onto the stage by his two backup singers, one closely resembling Chiquita Banana (complete with bananas), Patton was dressed for the part of “pop” star, with do-rag, bulletproof vest, and tuxedo jacket all on display. Not to be outdone by his outfit, Patton’s voice was the keystone of his group’s sound. Though the sound mixing favored the thumping bass and distorted guitar, Patton vocally smoothed over the atonal power chords and added emphasis with his beat-boxing.

The crowd was most responsive to Patton’s swagger during earlier songs “Don’t Even Trip” and “Mojo.” The former culminated in a chorus of middle fingers, which the crowd quickly mimicked, as they sang, “I know that assholes grow on trees/ but I’m here to trim the leaves.” A similar climax occurred during a beat-boxed intro by Patton, which led into a call and response. The crowd was equally eager to sing along here, repeating: “Roll it up and smoke it again./ Bottoms up and drink it again./ Fix it up and shoot it again./ I can’t believe I did it again.” It is unclear what percentage of the audience was cheering at the lyrics or at their underlying sardonicism, which is perhaps an ulterior motive for the project. But one thing was clear—Patton was in full control.

Dancing and jumping all over the cramped stage, with a particular affinity for belting out songs into the faces of the front row, Patton was all anarchy, energy, and vocals. When Patton sang, “Get up and analyze me./ You can’t pacify me,” it sounded like a challenge to categorization.

That Peeping Tom comes across as more Prince than Linkin Park at times is a testament not only to his vocal versatility but also to his range as a producer.

As the set progressed, Patton’s audience also became more tolerant of his aggressive banter in between songs, mostly testing the sensitivity of Chicago’s baseball teams and complaining of the lack of “normal” people in the audience. One failed attempt saw him setting up laughter like the intro in “Sucker.” If only he would just move on to the next song.

Though Patton was undeniably the commander of his quintet, rhythm section Dub Trio and singers Butterscotch and Imani Coppola (a.k.a. Chiquita Banana) got their share of the spotlight. Relatively early on, Butterscotch was given the stage to showcase an impressive beat-box and vocal polyphony, humming sweet melodies over intricate beats. In other words, she won the crowd with her one-woman show. Next, Coppola demonstrated her proficient violin playing in “Five Seconds,” which the crowd was largely uninterested in, but her sultry voice over the bossanova-laden “Caipirinha” was a brief release from the group’s driving beats.

At this point, Dub Trio was expected to take a featuring role, and they delivered with a high-powered punk rock performance. The electronics were added by guitarist DP Holmes, who spent more time on his knees adding space effects through his pedals than strumming. Rather than rocking out with his band-mates, he acted more like a mad scientist scrambling to complete his creation.

What took Mike Patton almost four years to create and produce only took an hour and 25 minutes to perform. But Peeping Tom accomplished what Patton ultimately set out to do—create a collection of ideal “pop” music for the alternative and indie kids to rock out to.