Words by CJ Gronner
Photos by Paul Gronner
The seminal 90’s band, Failure, closed out their recent tour in support of their album (really 4 ep’s), In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind, with a fantastic hometown show April 24th at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood, California, where they were joined by another 90’s band, Swervedriver.
Failure is my brother Paul’s favorite, and he was down front to capture the show photographically, as well as lose his mind, being extra-elated to be listening to his favorite music in person. Failure showed why they are both so fondly remembered, and still so celebrated.
Swervedriver didn’t break a sweat (unless it was due to the heavily lit stage), and their shoes were definitely being gazed at when we arrived near the end of their set. Someone on the floor yelled, “Welcome back!” to the Oxford, England-based band, and though almost exactly zero lyrics were decipherable through their super distorted guitar pedal fuzz, people other than me seemed to know what songs they were. The majorly stoned crowd (everyone seemed to have at least a vape pen, if not a real jay) nodded along happily! The highlight for everyone (judging from the shrieks) was “Last Train To Satansville” from their Mezcal Head album.
In between sets, Failure heads from back in the day greeted each other by yelling across the floor with rolled up collector posters as megaphones, and it was constant hugs and high fives. Then the house suddenly went dark, and there was Failure! Many in the house hadn’t seen this band live in like 17 years, so to say they went wild, when the haunting feedback intro led into “Solar Eyes”, was a major understatement. Thrilled!
The bass was so heavy I felt it in my throat all the way up in the balcony, and I could see my brother down front shooting, and knew how stoked he was. Ken Andrews was in fine voice … he reminds me a bit of Beck – singing, not looks.
Andrews traded off guitar and bass duties with Greg Edwards, and Kelllii Scott held it all down on the drums. “Distorted Fields” and “Heavy and Blind” (also off the new album) were aptly titled, as there was hella distortion going down. The jams were heavy, and we were all nearly blind from the constant use of colored Klieg-type lights that almost never let you see the band fully. (Kudos to the photographers that somehow found them in the chaos!)
“Fine citizens of Los Angeles, will you jump in a rocket ship with us for a trip to Fantastic Land?!” said Andrews, and the crowd answered in the affirmative, gaining them a bunch of songs from Fantastic Planet – their most beloved and well-known album. “Another Space Song” and “Smoking Umbrellas” were also titled pretty on the nose for these space rockers, and the smokers in the house that loved them.
Andrews addressed the crowd here, saying, “What’s happening, Los Angeles?! It’s so good to be home!”, with his arms up in victory formation. He went on to say that it was great to be playing at home for family and friends, and that his two kids were here to see them play – and they were right in front of me in the balcony, head banging along and going crazy for their Dad. It was awesome. “Pillowhead” got the whole place going crazy, and featured a whole lot of air-drumming from the crowd trying to keep time with Scott.
The highlight from this segment was probably their biggest hit ever, “Stuck On You”, and not just because a dude stage dove off of the stage at its start. It’s a melodic anthem with great lyrics (I thought I’d drop you easily/but that was not to be/You burrowed like a summer tick/so you invade my sleep/and confuse my dreams/Turn my nights to sleepless itch) that also appeared to be every couple in the room’s “song”, as there was much swaying and kissing down there during this one. Fantastic Land is cool.
The Magnified album was featured next, and we got “Undone” and “Frogs”. These were straight up ROCK, and reminded me a bit of Queens Of The Stone Age and maybe Tool. The Heart Is A Monster was the source material for the next jams: “A.M. Amnesia” and “Counterfeit Sky” which caused one guy to yell out, “Fuck yeah, Failure!” – which is kind of funny to hear. Like “Hooray for failure!” would only come up if it was for this band.
“Thanks for recognizing our new album. We love playing it on tour. Thank you for supporting it!”, said Andrews by way of introducing three more from ITFYBWBTFFYM, and next came “Dark Speed”, “No One Left” and the magnum opus that is “The Pineal Electorate” (my brother’s favorite of the night – among many). Those last two were switcheroos, as Andrews and Edwards traded vocals and instruments, and it was pretty metal. It ended with a cacophony of sound and feedback that showcased how good Failure’s sound is.
Failure is known for their sonic excellence, and they don’t use any amps on the stage. They travel with their own sound guy, and play through the sound system – super technical and hard to pull off, but these guys do it with aplomb.
We went back to the Fantastic Planet for the last song of the main set, and Failure ripped through “Heliotropic” and its heavy rock punctuated by effective lighting cues. It was a jammer, and the guys in the crowd loved it, especially when Andrews was tossing out picks at its end, before leaving the stage for the obligatory encore pause.
After a bunch of yelling and cheers, the band came back out for a bit of audience participation on “The Nurse Who Loved Me” – a much loved and covered tune also from Fantastic Planet (the one I’d get as a primer to Failure along with the latest).
They took us back to their first album for the final two numbers, and we learned that Comfort was recorded in 1991 in Minnesota (our home state!) with producer, Steve Albini. Paul’s favorite band was recording right in town and he didn’t even know it! Now he likes them even more. “Macaque” and “Screen Man” made the entire room – including Andrews’ kids – head bang even harder than before.
I’d like to thank Failure for greatly improving my mood, and reminding of the power of music to heal, uplift and unite. The crowd didn’t want to let the band go and the lines for merch were long. It was a bit of time travel back to the 90’s … but most likely also a glimpse into the future, as these guys are at the very top of their game – and should now maybe consider a name change to Success.
*All photos by Paul Gronner Photography