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Surely it’s no mystery those of you that read mxdwn every day, but here, we love a good underdog story. Even more than that, we love moments that are truly rare and unique. Those moments that feel like lightning struck right next to you, but magically, did not manage to electrocute you. You’re still alive. Yet, you feel permanently changed because you witnessed something so breathtaking and powerful. To say we crave those moments would be an understatement. We here at mxdwn are addicted to those moments. The vast majority of music nowadays is mass-produced and over sold to the point of exhaustion. Yes friends, we live in a time of extreme market saturation. In a hum drum environment of “been there, seen that” having a chance to experience the enigmatic giants of Failure reunite at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles is like water for a man dying of thirst.
While not universally known—save for some well-deserved extra exposure they gained when A Perfect Circle covered “The Nurse Who Loved Me” on the Thirteenth Step—this band is renowned for their influence and inspiration alone. For those of you that know and love the band, this paragraph’s conclusion will prompt a, “Yeah, exactly.” The rest of you will likely scrunch up your face and say, “Wait, really?” Failure is the 90s influential equivalent of The Velvet Underground. Creativity bloomed everywhere in the wake of their output. Like a scissor cutting through a piece of paper, the changes caused were permanent and forever altered the shape of things to come.
Rather than feature an opening act, Failure instead chose to show a cut-up montage of some their favorite cinematic moments. The moments chosen at some points reflected some of the band’s artful and philosophic musings, and other times provided for a great chuckle. Stitched together were pieces from the Bond classic The Spy Who Loved Me (that great gunfight skiing downhill), The Mirror (arty), Solaris (artier), Ren and Stimpy (absurdly hilarious), 2001: A Space Odyssey (eerily evocative) and 70s sci-fi cartoon Fantastic Planet (the spookiest of the spooky). After only a few mere moments from Fantastic Planet, the curtain the montage was projected upon dropped straight down and the band behind instantly started “Another Space Song.”
“Frogs” followed with its colorful refrain, “Frogs are leaping off my brain stem,” one of many songs from their catalog with literal and metaphorical references to drug use and addiction. A good portion of the band’s final studio album Fantastic Planet factored into the set, the next of which being “Saturday Savior,” a song that would sit perfectly next to Quicksand’s excellent material on Manic Compression. By the next number “Sergeant Politeness,” it became evident just how impressive and unique Ken Andrews’ voice is. While not one that was used to exhibit tremendous octave range, Andrews sings with a crisp, comforting confidence. It straddles the lines between razor sharp and soothing without ever sounding like a bad rock-n-roll cliché. Andrews and Greg Edwards would switch roles, alternating between bass and guitar duties. It mattered little as each member’s guitar work was nimble and immaculately rendered, and each member’s bass playing rumbled with thick, forceful grooves. “Undone” and “Dirty Blue Balloons” both particularly impressed behind that effortless skill while drummer Kellii Scott hammered out the rhythm.
This show was predictably crowded. The El Rey Theatre holds a decent number of fans, but every square inch of the venue was filled on this night. Happily, the vast majority of the crowd could be seen banging their fists in the air or singing along to nearly every word, “Blank” and “Solaris” providing excellent opportunities to do both. The latter of which featuring the lyric, “I’m on an ocean that has a brain and makes us dream / I’m on a mission to wipe imagination clean.” The set ended with many of the songs from the final portion of Fantastic Planet. “Stuck On You” was infectious and fun. “The Nurse Who Loved Me” stood out as charming, bizarre and alluringly beautiful. And lastly, “Daylight” ended the set proper with their trademark knack for measured and enrapturing arrangement. For their encore they played the driving “Smoking Umbrellas” and ended on the epic “Screen Man” all the way back from their first album Comfort from 1992.
There might not be many reunions undone from the great history of alternative music over the last thirty years, but it’s refreshing to experience one that feels like a true happening. Failure are a can’t-miss slice of unheralded and amazing culture brought back to life to demonstrate what true ingenuity is and means. It’s hard to say how long Andrews, Edwards and Scott will continue with the reunion, but don’t sleep on this one. Our little world of music-obsessed denizens have been craving something pure, authentic and vital. Look no further cats and kittens, Failure’s back.
Another Space Song
Dirty Blue Balloons
Stuck On You
The Nurse Who Loved Me
Let It Drip
All photos by Marisa Rose Ficara