Concert Review: Failure at The Masquerade, Atlanta GA 6/7/2014

After 16 years, Failure — Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards, and Kellii Scott — has reunited and is in the middle of their Tree of Stars North America tour, celebrating their full catalog of music with what has been billed as “An Evening with Failure”. This weekend, I had my passion, loyalty, and patience rewarded for sticking with them since a friend introduced me to them back in 2001 with “Stuck on You” on a mix CD he had prepared for me to play on UAB BlazeRadio back when I was hosting a show called Deus Ex Machina under the DJ moniker Kid A. I was joined by a friend and former coworker on the road trip, and I ran into several people from my past (two of which I haven’t seen since I was still in Dredge!) who had come from Gadsden and Tallahassee for the show.

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Instead of an opening act, the band prepared a short film that displayed their musical and visual influences over the years. This included footage from The Spy Who Loved Me (if you watch the music video for “Stuck on You”, this makes perfect sense), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ren & Stimpy (!!! – specifically, it was a clip from the episode “Space Madness” in which Ren succumbs to the crippling isolation of being sequestered to a shuttle…which fits well with “Another Space Song”), and of course the surreal La Planete Sauvage (better known in English as Fantastic Planet!)

As the Fantastic Planet footage was coming to a close, Failure opened with “Another Space Song”, which is fitting as it contains the lyrics “I’m so caught up in the tree of stars falling in my backyard” in reference to the tour moniker Tree of Stars. The full setlist, which you can view on Setlist.fm (if you don’t mind spoilers, that is), contains nearly all of Fantastic Planet, half of Magnified, one from their debut album Comfort, and a new song called “The Focus”. Before starting the new song, the band had just come on stage for their encore: the crowd was chanting “ONE MORE SONG!” and Ken answered, “So you want one more song? Nah, fuck that! How about FOUR more?!” to which the Masquerade erupted in applause.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/track=3908043240/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

What? A new song, you say? Yes, indeed. And that’s not the only one. A tour exclusive live EP titled Tree of Stars contains live versions of “Let it Drip”, “Frogs”, “Sergeant Politeness”, and “Heliotropic”, as well as studio recording of a new song “Come Crashing”.

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This song is a bit of a departure from the sound I’m used to from Failure, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It feels more pop-oriented, with synths and less dissonance than your standard Failure track. For now, the verdict is “it’s growing on me.” Feel free to check it on Failure’s Bandcamp page.

It gets better: in a May interview with Smells Like Infinite Sadness, Ken revealed that the band is working on a new album that is due out in 2015! Troy Van Leeuwen, while not part of the reunion tour, will be included in this recording.

For you music tech geeks out there, the band’s live setup is 100% amplifier free. They have converted to digital, using Fractal Audio Systems Axe FX II to emulate amplifiers, cabinets, effects pedals, etc. This allows Ken and Greg to quickly switch guitar and bass duties, as they so often did last night, as well as to easily access preset banks of sound settings that so define each individual song. For example, to transition from “Stuck on You” to “Heliotropic”, Ken and Greg swap instruments, Greg begins the droning synth line that opens “Heliotropic”, and Ken pulls up the huge, nasty distortion for one of the heaviest bass riffs of all time. Instead of traditional amplifiers and cabinets, Ken and Greg each have a Sunn Model 15 PA speaker behind them simply to incorporate feedback when appropriate.

As far as live shows go for me, last night’s is matched and/or beaten by only a handful: the two times I’ve seen Radiohead (Hail to the Thief tour in Atlanta – they played Creep!!!, and In Rainbows tour in Indianapolis), Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, and Autolux on tour together in Detroit (which, QOTSA and Autolux at the time included half of Failure’s final lineup: Troy and Greg, respectively), and Sigur Ros in Ann Arbor (Takk… tour, back when they were still playing songs from Agaetis byrjun, which I sorely missed at their BJCC concert).

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