“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Not my words, Carol, but the words of top Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi.
You see, the late 90s became something of a sinkhole for forward-thinking bands. While they weren’t slain by an asthmatic Sith Lord, Faith No More collapsed under the weight of their inter-band tension, while the police closure of a Virginia show proved to be the last straw for Swedish post-hardcore innovators Refused. And tonight’s headliners Failure created a massive void when they chose to disband in late 1997 after releasing three studio albums. Bloody personal differences, eh?
And yet two decades on, all three bands have reappeared fitter and stronger and have legacy-worthy albums under their belts.
The influence of Failure – whose classic line-up features Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards and Kellii Scott – has reached far and wide in the intervening years. Tool vocalist and lauded vintner Maynard James Keenan said: “They say amateurs borrow and professionals steal. Well over the years this pro has robbed those poor saps blind.” Deftones are fans. Trent Reznor is a fan and Frank Turner tweeted earlier in the day to say he was gutted to miss tonight’s gig. Boston quartet Cave In all but ditched their hardcore leanings to worship at their altar, while Paramore’s Hayley Williams says Failure made her want to be in a band; so it must have been something of a thrill to have Andrews add keyboards, vocals and mix their 2013 self-titled album.
One such act who’ve fallen under their spell are Los Angeles quartet Queen Kwong, led by Carré Callaway. During their set, there’s never a dull moment; to her left, Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland wrestles feedback and ominous sounds from his guitar, with a look of fun rather than fancy-dressed obligation. The highlight of their 40-minute set is new single Cold Daggers; Fred Sablan’s urgent bass gives the song – part-Birthday Party, part-PJ Harvey – a sense of menace and could easily soundtrack a Tarantino film about a frenzied bar stabbing in the American Old West. He’s probably written it already, to be fair.
Because of geography and circumstance, America has already had a good handful of Failure reunion shows. But tonight marks the band’s first appointment on British soil in 20 years. So, as you can expect, there’s a sense of giddy expectation from a room of people who’ve waited for this moment longer than is considered polite.
Seeing as die-hard fans have waited two decades to see Failure in the UK, what’s a little longer? It’s at this point that the 600 punters are – and this isn’t meant to sound harsh – subjected to an agonising 15-minute film that plays out like a fevered daydream. There’s clips of Roger Moore in the 1977 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (complete with Carly Simon’s theme Nobody Does It Better and clips of their own Bond-esque promo for Stuck On You), Scandinavian art house, Ren and Stimpy and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Who knows what it all means but this is not the time to pick out any hidden narrative strands. We came here to have our ears kicked in with spacey riffs.
As the film screen ascends into the rafters, the trio wander out in near light and kick off with the undulating Hot Traveler. Taken from their forthcoming album The Heart Is A Monster (due next month), it’s immediate that tonight’s gig will not disappoint.
Centre stage, Scott pounds the drums with the force of free-falling redwood trees as Andrews’ bass and understated vocals glide in and out of Edwards’ swathes of textured guitar sounds. Next up, Frogs – propelled by a sternum-punishing bass-line and spiralling harmonic-laden feedback – sounds even better than it does on their 1994 album Magnified. New slow burner Counterfeit Sky is sandwiched in between Another Space Song and Saturday Savior from their 1996 classic album, Fantastic Planet.
The setlist is damn near flawless – of course, Sergeant Politeness would have been welcomed into the 15 song set – and leans heavily on 1992’s Comfort and its 1994 follow-up, while throwing in Mulholland Drive, a third and final taster from their new album. “Those are the only three new songs we know how to play,” deadpans Andrews.
The Nurse Who Loved Me – a love song about pills and pharmacy keys covered by A Perfect Circle on their Thirteenth Step concept album – marks the first of three encores, and is topped off with Smoking Umbrellas and Daylight.
It’s a fantastic return and something of a relief after such a lengthy wait, too. Just don’t leave it another 20 years please.
Photos: Sandra Sorensen