Nirvana famously set the tone for their entire career with their breakthrough single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Kurt Cobain shouted the lines “With the lights out / it’s less dangerous / Here we are now / entertain us / I feel stupid / and contagious / Here we are now / entertain us / A mulatto / an albino / a mosquito / my libido / a denial” with a sarcastic seriousness that was impossible to imitate. The song seemed to imply an aching contempt for the mainstream music world simultaneously wrapped around Cobain’s need to be a part of it. In the end he was as “stupid” and “contagious” as any of the cock rock he was here to destroy. It’s that dichotomy that kept fans and music critics alike pondering the significance and timeliness of his work. San Francisco’s Faith No More reveled in a similar dichotomy all their own, and also set the tone for the brilliance of their career in one deft move on their career-defining single, “Epic.” In many ways–just like Cobain–their first words to us were their most prophetic. Here in Los Angeles at the famous Palladium, the recently reunited band was set to play the first of only two shows before heading to Chile to seemingly call it quits once again. Their show demonstrated with brutal clarity the endless pondering of the simple call and response: “It’s it / What is it?”
Opting for only a few sporadic shows in the United States, prior to tonight the only Southern California show on the appropriately dubbed “Second Coming” tour was Coachella back in April. There, Los Angeles Faith No More fans had to endure a 70,000-strong crowd, sweltering heat and hum-drum Muse fans waiting for their headliner, only to ultimately catch FNM play a whopping 45-minute set. These two shows were a gift for the LA natives.
Openers the Creepy Creeps held down the warm-up slot admirably, playing a keyboard-drenched form of garage rock reminiscent of the Cato Salsa Experience from the early 2000’s. The band played entirely behind masks and cracked jokes about having “57” more songs to go perform before Faith No More would take the stage. Soon enough, they were finished and the stage was prepared for the headliner. A scheduled series of comedy sets and magic from slated openers MC Selene Luna and a magician never materialized, scaled down to almost 1 minute right before the band started their set. Seemingly the band’s gear took a little longer than expected to prepare.
The lights finally went down, and the group took the stage in their matching full dress suits. Starting with the opening hushed keyboard lines introducing their cover of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited,” singer Mike Patton took the stage wearing a blood-red full-on pimp suit, sunglasses and walking with a cane. Patton and keyboardist Roddy Bottum traded lines before joining in the song’s ode to reconciliation, “Reunited / and it feels so good.” Their deployment of it at the beginning of the show acknowledges on one level the joy they have in working together again, but also pokes fun at the fact that they broke up in the first place.
From there, the songs dial up a notch considerably. “From Out of Nowhere” ignites the crowd with its driving guitars and siren-like keyboard accompaniment. Two songs in and Patton is already jumping around as if he’s on a pogo stick. One of several surprises from the night comes next in the form of Angel Dust track “Everything’s Ruined.” Bassist Billy Gould thumps out the chugging bassline while guitarist Jon Hudson plucks the soaring distorted chords that escalate the song’s energy. Along with Bottum’s plunging piano melody, it’s a sonic tapestry of stellar quality rarely heard in hard rock.
Heavier material follows in the form of “Caffeine” and “Surprise! You’re Dead!”, the former an exercise in Patton’s vocal dexterity alternating between menacing spoken blurbs, screeching screams and pure singing, and the latter a no-frills chance for the crowd to sing along. Another left turn comes immediately thereafter as the group used a bit of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” to usher in early Introduce Yourself track “Chinese Arithmetic.”
The band then darts nimbly between a variety of genres on the next four songs. The bell twinkles and crunchy chords of “Last Cup of Sorrow” make for a relatively accessible singalong opportunity for the crowd, “It’s your last cup of sorrow / What can you say? / Finish it today.” Perhaps the band’s heaviest song, “Cuckoo for Caca” is captivating; running like a train edging dangerously close to flying off the rails, the audience is elated at the song’s full-throttle power. “Easy,” a dead-on cover of The Commodores classic track is breezy, beautiful balladry. And not to be outdone, drummer Mike “Puffy” Bordin taps and patters the opening rhythm to one of the group’s most luminous compositions, “Midlife Crisis.” It’s a revelation as it shifts from incendiary introspection, daunting distortion, sweeping synths, sample-laden breakdowns and a bombastic finale.
Another excellent cover and Faith No More rarity–the Bee Gees “I Started A Joke”–allowed Patton to flex his vocal muscles with a daunting level of skill. The previously mentioned seminal hit “Epic” from The Real Thing and “Ashes to Ashes” cemented the band’s grip on the crowd, each brimming over with remarkable highlights. The inspiring love song “Just a Man” ended the set proper, as Patton instructed the crowd to sway their arms from side-to-side. For any other band, “Just a Man” would be their greatest accomplishment, but for Faith No More, this was just one more jaw-dropping display of supreme craftsmanship.
The two encores split the difference between some of the band’s most necessary closing numbers and a slew of even higher-caliber rarities. Heartfelt plea/self-examination “Helpless,” took simple melodic devices and as a whole fluttered up to stupefying heights. Fan favorite “Stripsearch” appeared attached to the end of “Chariots of Fire.” Even further back into the archives, “Spirit” from the band’s second album Introduce Yourself showed how much skill the band had even in their earliest days. And finally, Faith No More concluded with the crowd-pleasing “We Care a Lot” and the even more obscure cover “This Guy’s in Love With You.”
All the course of the show, Bottum and Patton played to the crowd. At some points poking for enthusiasm and at others, straight-up egging the crowd on. At one point after citing the Lakers as a way to receive cheers from those on hand, Patton stared down a confrontational fan and stated, “Fuck you and fuck your mother.” At another, Patton offered the fans show their love by spitting on him, demanding, “Give! Spit on me!” Later, they would trade barbs about taking the standard encore breaks stating, “It’s kind of a music industry thing.” This all happened without losing an iota of momentum or even a morsel of enthusiasm.
At the beginning of their career, Faith No More burst onto the scene with “Epic.” The song’s two main lines, “You want it all / but you can’t have it / It’s in your face / but you can’t grab it,” and “It’s it / What is it?” command attention even if they don’t explain with clarity what they’re referring to. Is it drug use? Money? Fame? It’s the feeling that reverberates and stays with you. Perhaps it’s simply an epic need to reach for more. A desire to accumulate, process and wield just about everything before you with power and finesse. For Faith No More as sonic architects, that fits the description of their style quite well. If you were to ask them of their band’s niche, “What is it?” They’d assuredly respond, “It’s it,” meaning they are whatever they need to be. As a rock-and-roll band they never stopped redrawing the boundaries of what we consider “rock” or what they wanted it to be. They kept following that impulse, to reach beyond what was possible, what they couldn’t have. The results are without question. They are quite possibly the greatest rock group of our generation. The only bad thing? That they seem to be going their separate ways again.
From Out of Nowhere
Surprise, You’re Dead
Poker Face / Chinese Arithmetic
Last Cup of Sorrow
Cuckoo for Caca
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
I Started a Joke
Ashes to Ashes
Just a Man
— 1st Encore —
Chariots of Fire / Stripsearch
— 2nd Encore —
We Care a Lot
This Guy’s in Love With You
All photos by Raymond Flotat