We have said it many times before. In fact, we have even allowed other bands to say it as well. Reunited Los Angeles rock band Failure have become one of the most influential counter culture acts of our time. With lyricism steeped in references to drugs and science fiction and a lush musical palette generally unrivaled by trios anywhere, Failure have set the standard for what real artists can do with rock music.
At the wonderful Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, the band made a stop on their tour performing their masterpiece album Fantastic Planet in its entirety. The show was that with just a little bit more. Like their initial reunion performance at the El Rey a couple years back, the show began with a montage of footage from cult classic movies and sci-fi flicks that greatly influenced them over the years. Footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey, La Planète sauvage, the famous skiing shootout from The Spy Who Loved Me and the intro for that movie (Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better”) intercut with footage from Failure’s “Stuck On You” video. That’s right. No openers for this show. Just a lovely montage setting the stage for the band’s ethos and the headliner proper.
The show from there is exactly what a fan would hope for. The Fantastic Planet album in order from top to bottom played with immaculate precision. “Saturday Savior” became the opening singalong it was always destined to be. “Sergeant Politeness” is the rocking answer to the chugging whimsy of “Saturday Savior.” Later, “Dirty Blue Balloons” is charming and reflective, contemplative and rocking without being overly aggressive. The most satisfying moment on the night happens during the band’s performance of their essential cut “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” For this song, nearly every person present is singing every word, but when the chorus comes along, “I’m taking her home with me / all dressed in white / she’s got everything I need / pharmacy keys / she’s falling hard for me / I can see it in her eyes / she acts just like a nurse,” lead singer/guitarist/bassist Ken Andrews stops to allow the fans to sing the last line for him, “With all the other guys.” The crowd cheers and Andrew can audibly heard saying, “I love L.A.!”
At the finale of the main set, the seminal album’s final 3 songs are a stunning tour de force of song craft and meticulous arrangement. “Stuck On You” is the poppy alt hit ’90’s music fans really deserved, subtle sonic dissonance awash in gobs of near perfect melodies. On the more atmospheric side “Heliotropic” is the musical equivalent of a deep space hyperdrive voyage, the layers of textures enveloping in almost fear-inducing perfection. And of course, the clockwork tones of closer “Daylight” is a heartbreaking devotion of undying love, perhaps mired in the deepest darkness.
There is an encore, and it’s neatly one song each from their three other releases. From the criminally under appreciated 2015 release The Heart is a Monster first comes the mid tempo “Mulholland Drive.” After that, drummer Kellii Scott gives a performance worthy of the greatest moments of John Bonham and Keith Moon on “Wet Gravity” off of Magnified. The pummeling is so impressive, the crowd on hand literally starts chanting “Kellii, Kellii, Kelli” in unison. The final number is introduced by guitarist/keyboardist Greg Edwards as being in tribute to a deceased fan. He describes this by saying, “When she had a body she used to love to dance to this song.” They end off appropriately for her playing “Screen Man.” There’s little to add we haven’t said before. If you’re serious about how music can truly be high art, especially rock music, this is the band you should be listening to. Nobody does it better for certain, for sure.
All photos by Raymond Flotat