Failure in the Throes of Success:
A Religious Experience at the Great American Music Hall
Words by Jade. Photos by Greg RaMar
An old-fashion, golden speck of light twinkled in the sea of night club signs against the San Francisco canvas night. The Great American Music Hall is a dimly lit happy place for every brand of music enthusiast. Tonight, a line of bearded, tattooed, long-haired, flannel-draped, punky hooligans had their arms around their studded leather girlfriends, trying to convince them of “how great this band is, I’m telling you. You’ll see.” O’Farrell St. remembered most of these people from the Tree of Stars Tour in 2014, the tour that brought Failure back from the dead. The line was mind chanting something fierce like, “we hear your call, Failure. We are present.”
Getting to the front was not difficult. The ones who really wanted to be there were there. I learned from a group of baby grungees next to me that the opener was called The New Regime and sounded like a “wimpy version of Nine Inch Nails.” They weren’t too far off. The New Regime is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Ilan Rubin. Rubin’s solo debut incubated while he drummed for Nine Inch Nails. We’ll see…
I surveyed my environment. Prominent logos invaded my sight in shimmering metalwork: SKB from Orange CA, a little amp named McCauley, Fenders, Rolands, Zildjians. Techies leaned over the barricade bar tables to point and touch. “This” type of music attracts “those” types of people who want to know how to produce that galactic warble sound on their guitars. [Continued below]
Check out the photos from this incredible show by Greg RaMar![highlights columns=”2″ tags=”failure-gr-083115, newregime-gr-083115″ headings=”Failure, The New Regime” /]
For being saturated with the way-back 90s grunge scene, it is a wonder Failure rejects the genre altogether. And since they never really specified an alternative, fans have cautiously resorted to calling them “space rock.” David Bowie and more spacey delights permeated the audio-sphere of the GAMH as the people assembled for sermon.
Nu-grunge, old grunge, surprisingly young grunge. The fan base was diverse and stirring. What was Failure going to play? The Heart is a Monster all the way through? Some Fantastic Planet? Old rare demos? Please?
A gaggle of teenagers next to me were nervous, geeking out on the merch, the demos, the new songs; murmurs of “A.M. Amnesia” and “I Can See Houses” and “that other song that starts with a C, I hope they play that one!” as personal favorites. The conversation strayed to San Francisco suburban life. A youth subculture that worries about the price of t-shirts, the price of BART, the time it leaves, and how the people on the street are scarier at night. Forget about it. Their goals tonight were a “Ken Andrews fist bump” and they were determined. Shiny happy baby boomers were overlooking, snacking in the balconies.
I started getting sleepy, the constant drone of anticipation like a lullaby sung by a chorus of insomniacs. I could barely hear the new wave that couldn’t be any further from grunge. Hardly anyone was here. Small talkers quibbled “this is all they could muster from San Francisco?”
But it was comfortable. In the spirit of the underground, it was a perfect size.
Failure conjured a new cult from their resurrection. Youth culture flocked to rebuild a new fan base like some coincidental stroke of migratory evolution. I couldn’t stop thinking about how weird it felt to be a part of this early-2000s subcultural growth.
It had only been a measly 10 minutes. 7:50…7:52…7:54….7:59….8:00 on the dot.Kill the lights for The New Regime. Turns out they are an alt rock power trio, a no-brainer touring opener for a band like Failure. They immediately planted solid footing into funk-rock-bass. To employ the endearingly cliché love-child metaphor, I would have to go with Maroon 5 and Alice in Chains. Maybe with Queens of the Stone Age as an odd yet disturbingly influential uncle, but even that’s a crumbling estimate.
Front-man Rubin is a motivated songwriter and it shows through his performance style. He looks like Jack White and sounds like Sting without jeopardizing an identity he hand-crafted with intention. A versatile drummer and creative bassist make this endeavor a pleasure to experience live. It was admirable to watch bassist Daniel Rubin (Ilan’s brother? A cousin, perhaps?) pluck stoically yet for himself. Each bassline could stand alone as something melodic, groovy, and forthright.
The New Regime concluded their set with a quick rep of their new record Exhibit B before galloping away into a Mad Max desert-esque jam session that couldn’t have been shorter than eight minutes. I felt a little sad after the set watching half the band dart to the merch table while the other half played roadie in the back room. They seemed overdue for that big break. Before exiting, Rubin repeated their name “The New Regime” so as not to fall into the fissures of anti-memory.
The all too familiar intermission time found my hearing so muffled, I could hardly identify early-Björk through the PA. The sleepy drone had turned into chaotic buzzing as concertgoers dug through the swelling sound waves that clogged their ear cavities. This concert was LOUD, and by the time Failure got to the stage, I couldn’t hear for shit.
So they turned it up.The presentation was like a three-piece suit, freshly tailored and fitted onto a nice model. Everything was so clean and contrived. Kelli Scott’s beautiful silver drum kit was flanked: Ken Andrew’s neon pedal boards and mounted iPads on one end, Greg Edward’s elaborate keyboard setup on the other. Stagehands worked like elves perfecting each sound system in the dim blue light, tossing water to the crowd like feed to the flock.
What used to be non-descript boxes morphed into three massive LED screens. Logically in line with Failure‘s current theme, the audience witnessed an artificial embryo insemination on those screens as the band showed off their newborn album The Heart is a Monster (INgrooves Music Group, Failure Records LLC 2015). They opened like they were supposed to, with Segue 4 leading into new hit single “Hot Traveler.” That’s a lot to swallow.
After “A.M. Amnesia,” a powerfully emotive performance, Failure gently assured us that the 90s were always with us. They dazedly played an oldie, shoegaze-y ballad “Another Space Song,” always seeming to be a band favorite. This song has quite a bit of influence on Failure‘s current work. It contains lyrical references to Tree of Stars, their first EP in 20 years. At this point, they were jumping all over their discography.
“Wet Gravity” gave us “brain squeals.” Scott’s bass drum traveled underground like The Thing and tossed us like a salad.
Hearing songs from four of their albums reminded the audience that Failure is more than Fantastic Planet. They have proven themselves worthy of recognition across decades and have managed to stay loyal to a unique flavor of alternative rock.
At this point, the cultiest of the front-row cult were pleading for the Fantastic Planet songs that changed their lives. Andrews reminded the followers to be patient by worshipping his guitar during “Saturday Savior.”Following a jamming “Segue 1,” the audience got to experience second new single “Mulholland Dr.” A song reminiscent of The Flaming Lips, it is one of a handful that showcase Edwards’ soothing vocal aesthetic.
It was bizarre to see grown men tearfully thanking Failure for granting their “oh-so-life-completing” song requests.
Andrews rocked into one of the LEDs and almost knocked it over in order to do justice to “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” For the next song, these LEDs stole the show with a modified version of the iconic “Stuck on You” music video as a back-drop to a ground-shaking performance.
Failure ended the evening with a couplet of tragic songs, newbie “Otherwhere” and traditional concert closer “Heliotropic.” This last song has been my own personal life-changer for quite some time. It was an eerie feeling to hear it played to me again. I felt gratitude.
All three played like they had been on tour for quite some time. They were polished and emotional, engaging in the purest of musical expression. This was to be Failure‘s last show out of ten for their North American tour. It was good to be back.
After the last song, Andrews unceremoniously launched his dripping sweat rag out into the swarm for some star-struck weirdo with a Failure fetish to sniff at. Overwhelmed, it took me a minute to react to the inconsiderate nobody leaning over me to beg for “a spare set list? Is that a guitar pick? A snotty tissue? Anything!”
The night was cool and concertgoers exited toward glowing black tour buses. I watched hairy stragglers wait to execute a love trap when the band relented and came up for air. The baby grungees made smart decisions and hurried off to BART to avoid the scary people at night. I boarded my bus with tinnitus, wondering if the musical preachers I’d just knelt before would ever become sellouts.