Faith No More’s Unconquered Sun

by: Douglas Grant

The first of a two part feature on Faith No More’s return to the spotlight…

Dustin Rabin Photography, Faith No More, FNM, Dustin Rabin
Part One: The Tour

Faith No More: You either love them or hate them.

Scratch that.

Faith No More: You either love them or you are utterly indifferent to their presence as mainstream musicians. Because everyone at least remembers, and kind of likes, their hit “Epic” from the late 80s, right?

This last Saturday, at The Observatory in Santa Ana, Faith No More wrapped up the California leg of their long awaited reunion tour. I was in attendance, marking the third time I’ve seen the band live. The first time was back in ’92 when they were touring with Helmet and promoting their fourth studio album, Angel Dust. After Saturday night I was in awe of how much raw energy the five musicians were able to project after so much time apart. The band’s body of music has spanned four decades now, and they seem as hungry as they’ve ever been. This isn’t to downplay the momentous run of their global three year Second Coming Tour beginning back in 2009, but even bassist Billy Gould readily admits, “When we first started rehearsing [for the reunion] [o]ur brains were there but our bodies weren’t. The muscle memory wasn’t there yet. We had to play these songs we hadn’t played in fourteen years. But it came back, and it was incredible to hear our songs onstage, coming out of us again.”

As frontman, Mike Patton’s stage presence is as commanding as ever. It’s difficult to compare the apples and oranges of lead singers whose antics up on stage make for a captivating show, but Patton has always been enough of a wild card to keep the crowd engaged and unsure of exactly which direction the show might head in. This happened during their charged performance of “Midlife Crisis” from Angel Dust, where drummer Mike Bordin absolutely shined. Patton got the crowd riled up just before the band launched into the song’s final chorus, when suddenly the music stopped and the crowd was left singing the lyrics (“You’re perfect, yes, it’s true / But without me you’re only you / Your menstruating heart / It ain’t bleedin’ enough for two”) as Patton and the band stood there staring back with amused expressions. Patton’s response to his fans’ enthusiasm: “You know when a dog doesn’t understand what you’re saying? And it goes— (tilts his head to the side). Now you can do that to us.” In the last two tours the band has—at this point in the song— interjected a tease of some of the best of Billboard 200 from the 70s, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” On this night it was a particularly funky rendition of Boz Scaggs’s one-time hit “Lowdown.”  It went over well with the crowd, because if you’re a fan then you know that there are going be some jazzier and poppier tracks peppered throughout the show, original songs and covers both.

The stage was covered in white and adorned all over with floral arrangements, giving it the appearance of an altar on a wedding day. This was the same setup that they had at the Wiltern in L.A. during their performances the previous three nights. The band, all dressed in white, took the stage and with little preamble commenced playing the title track from their forthcoming album, Sol Invictus, which will be discussed in detail in Part Two: The Album. Whereas with many of the previous shows from this tour the new songs were interwoven with the old fan favorites, during this show they chose to roll out all new material for the first half. For the most part, the crowd responded with ardor, having already heard and discussed several of these songs in eager anticipation of Sol Invictus’ release next month. Between online buzz and hype from the shows that have come before, fans have been awaiting live performances of “Superhero,” “Motherfucker,” and “Matador” since these songs have been systematically debuted during live performances even before the announcement of Sol Invictus.

Faith No More is not a band that will be strong-armed into playing a show that caters to those who’ve come to hear the hits, but neither will they leave the fans hanging. After the nine songs from Sol Invictus, they dug into their lengthy repertoire that was replete with the heavy-hitting tracks from their “best of” list, including “Midlife Crisis,” “Epic,” and “We Care a Lot.” Apart from that, we were given a healthy dose of lesser known fan favorites hailing from The Real Thing, Angel Dust, King for a Day . . . Fool for a Lifetime, and Album of the Year. It was a well-rounded show that paid homage to the band’s extensive chronology, while still being able to introduce fans to what’s to come.

Before, I alluded to the fact that the band consistently integrates lighter fare with their harder sounding tracks, both on albums and in shows. Often the reprieve from the metal riffs and snares comes in the form of the songs they’ve been recognized for regularly covering, including The Commodores’ “Easy,” Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You,” or John Barry’s theme from Midnight Cowboy. When I saw them five years ago at Coachella I was treated to an opener of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” which was followed shortly thereafter with a cover of The Jackson Five’s “Ben.” This night’s tease of Boz Scaggs’s “Lowdown” was a most pleasant surprise, but I knew the band wouldn’t close the show without sneaking one more of their token covers in there somewhere. I wasn’t disappointed, as Patton, with fervor during the third song of the encore, crooned his interpretation of “I Started a Joke” by The Bee Gees.

The venues Faith No More has been playing of late seem appropriate for a band that is juggling its commercial success, its cult following, and the vacuum left by its extended hiatus. Next month they make their way across the Midwest toward their destinations in the Northeast before heading off to Europe to tour until the end of June, at which point they take approximately a month off before returning to the states to resume touring. It was a refreshingly unique experience to be exposed to their new songs before the release of their latest album, an experience that for many will be flipped on its head after Sol Invictus’ release on May 19. It’s apparent that this band, that has defied definition by genre and gone the distance with loyal fans, has stayed true to its roots with this new album, while still providing us with something fresh and original, something many of us having been holding our collective breaths for since 1997.

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