Once upon a time, I relished the idea of catching MF Doom live, and the funny thing is that I don’t really know why. I don’t know that I could articulate what I was hoping to see at his live show that would be superior to the experience of just listening to his albums. Maybe I wanted to see the mask up close for some semi-perverse reason. Whatever the case, I ended up seeing MF Doom live at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2009, and I can confidently state that the desire is gone. The performance wasn’t atrocious; it was just boring. Doom gregariously rolled through his many characters and hits, but I just could have just as easily stayed at home and listened to studio versions of the set list in order. Nothing was gained by the visual element, and the sound was passable at best.
Moreover, I’ve read plenty of online accounts of similarly dejected Doom fans, those who expected transcendence — perhaps unrealistically — from one of their heroes, only to be presented with Doom-by-numbers. So it’s a little unexpected that Doom is opting to release a live album. Not only that, the track sequencing is bound to aggravate a few people. There’s “Act 1”, a half-hour megamix comprised mostly of songs from 2004’s MM…Food, and Madvillainy, his instantly classic collaboration with Madlib. You also get an intermission made up entirely of a Star Trek sample, and “Act 2,” a nearly twenty-minute segment almost entirely made up of spliced segments of Operation: Doomsday.
Much to my pleasant surprise, Expektoration plays well, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of time with Operation: Doomsday, MM…Food, and Madvillainy. For the most part, it feels like listening to some DJ cutting in and out of your favorite Doom tracks at the best points and moving on to the next one before you get sick of each individual cut. Obviously, the hype-men and the banter between songs keep that illusion from being fully realized, but Doom’s raspy voice and beats cut through the mix a hell of a lot better on Expektoration than they do in person.
Expektoration is, by no means, essential. It’s a little too fragmented to work as a Doom primer for the uninitiated, nor is it inspired enough that longtime fans will opt for Expektoration when they can just listen to the original cuts. Nonetheless, anytime I can spend an hour listening to a playlist that starts with “Hoe Cakes”, hits “Accordion” and “Figaro” somewhere in the middle, and ends on an encore of “The Fine Print” (from King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader), I’m a happy man.