May 31, 2014
The musical career of Failure can be summed up in one word: ignored. Over the course of close to a decade, three albums of increasing sonic greatness came and went with some critical success, but out much notice from the public. The gritty, lo-fi ridden quality of 1992’s Comfort was lost in the burgeoning grunge scene (which thankfully ended as soon as it began,) 1994’s Magnified was cast aside in the ashes of grunge for the emergence of alternative ‘music’ and their magnum opus (and last album,) the everlasting sonic landscape of 1996’s Fantastic Planet, was unable to find much of an audience thanks to the combined burnout from grunge/alternative, causing the masses to flee towards the developing era of commercialized hip-hop. Regardless of whether it was poor timing or major label incompetence (the band themselves have hinted towards both,) the group was never was able to catch the break that they needed and deserved. Case in point: a YouTube search for ‘Failure Live’ turns up an assortment of gigs, including a fair quality video for one of their last shows in 1997, which was big on sound for a shockingly sparse crowd.
Then, in late 2013 a surprise announcement for the reunion of Failure was announced; a band stratospheric on talent and lowly on record sales had decided to give the music world at large another shot. In the time that they had quietly gone away, Ken Andrews became a sought after Producer/Mixer, Greg Edwards found deserved success with Autolux, and Kellii Scott became in demand as a session drummer. So why reunite and tour extensively? It could have been for a number of reasons: Ken and Greg’s renewed friendship/musical partnership, a surge in album sales as of late, or the fact that their first announced gig in 17 years in February at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles sold out in 5 minutes. It could be anyone’s guess.
The real issue for Failure now is whether 17 years of dust and rust will result in a phoned in performance screaming of nostalgia or whether they would have a solid return, with the energy of a band finally basking in newly found glory, as they took the stage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Forgoing an opening act in favor of a short film composed of clips from influential films might have helped to draw the crowd in. But it was a clip from the eerie animated film Fantastic Planet that provided the real hook for their imminent arrival, providing a perfect segue into the expansive space-rock beauty of “Another Space Song” from Fantastic Planet. Led by bone crushing beats from Kellii Scott’s mighty drumming, Failure took the stage to a screaming audience and quickly laid all fears of nostalgia to rest.
They easily kept the momentum escalating, tearing through Magnified’s “Frogs” and “Wet Gravity,” continually slamming the crowd with the droning crunch that fans have lovingly embraced since their arrival in 1990. And before the crowd could get comfortable, they fearlessly changed pace launching into the chords of the slow burning “Saturday Savior”. The rapidly unfolding evening revealed a carefully constructed set list, which placed songs in an order that managed to lean each cut against the next, creating a set that was compiled with true love for the material and the people who kept it alive.
The live vocals of the great Ken Andrews were vastly superior to his studio voice, reaching its chilling heights during fan favorites “Pillowhead” and “Smoking Umbrellas,” which were ironically two songs that Andrews had expressed displeasure with in his Facebook rehearsal posts. On the opposite side of the stage, the shadow-looming guitar painting of Greg Edwards provided the meticulously layered foundations for the vocals to glide over, with heavily processed sounds that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a NASA control room. The songs that benefited the most from his sci-fi soundscapes took the forms of the rhythmic angst of “Solaris” and what was definitely a welcomed surprise, the lonely, planet-orbiting “Segue 3.”
The award for hero of the evening ultimately goes to drummer Kellii Scott, who somehow managed to avoid possible jail time for instrument endangerment, brutally beating his drum set into oblivion as he matched the body smashing power of the artillery level speakers’ slam for slam, all while visibly enjoying himself. It’s rare to have a drummer who can beat low-end frequencies into submission, but Scott managed to wreck it every second of the set, reaching his peak with the best song of the night “Heliotropic.”
The only disappointment was the lack of any Comfort era songs, which originally was supposed to make an appearance in the form of “Macaque” (it ultimately had an audible called on it in favor of the more popular “Bernie”,) but it was more than made up for with the debut of a new track titled “The Focus,” which helped to fire up the anticipation in lead-up to their fourth studio album, due in 2015.
The show ended on a dramatic high with the towering “Daylight,” which felt like more of a sentimental choice in the fact that it also closed Fantastic Planet.
It was a night of ear ringing, heartbeat disturbing chaos that was masterfully put together by a band that was more than welcomed back. In Ken’s words toward the end, he remarked that the night’s show was “the best show in Asbury Park that [the band] had ever had”. I would more than agree.