Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14

Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik

Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

After a ten-minute film intro (there was no opening band) that included clips from, among other things, the 1975 Russian art-house film The Mirror, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic "Space Madness" episode of Nickelodeon's Ren and Stimpy and the opening scene from The Spy Who Loved Me, Failure took the stage at the roughly 3/4 full Varsity on Wednesday night to a barrage of cheers and whistles.

It's been 22 years since their debut, Comfort, was released but it certainly didn't sound like it as they opened the night's two-hour set with a note-perfect version of "Another Space Song" from their 1996 magnum opus, Fantastic Planet.

From there they moved into "Frogs" from 1994's Magnified and like so many bands before them, it was quite obvious already that Failure was criminally overlooked during their first go-round. The magnificent harmonics; the skull crushing basslines from Ken Andrews; the tattered, angular guitar riffs offered by Greg Edwards, to say nothing of Kellii Scott's precise, thunderous drumming. Seeing the band again some 20 years later, the wide influence they had was immediately obvious, as many of the songs contained passages that sounded like everything from TV On the Radio to the War On Drugs. "Sergeant Politeness" kept the audio assault moving at a roughly pedal to the floor speed, while "Dirty Blue Balloons" cemented itself as one the bands best songs and possibly the best '90s alt-rock tongue twister title.

Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14
Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14
Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14
Photos by Mark N. Kartarik

Which brings up another "Failure did it best" occurrence: They were a precursor to the Decemberists in a way, in that if you told people you listened to them, it came with a certain cache. You thought about things deeply, maybe -- or at least seemed to -- and could probably talk at length about H.P. Lovecraft's works. You probably weren't smarter than the guy next to you, mind you, but seeming like it was all that mattered and Failure lent a massive helping hand.

The band wrapped up the first part of the night with "Pillowhead" and "The Nurse Who Loved Me, " Andrews announcing they'd be back after a short break as a green and black digital clock appeared on the projection screen behind them and began counting down from 15:00.
As everyone piled back into the Varsity's stage area post-smoke/grab a beer/go to the restroom break, Failure began the night's second half in a measured fashion with "Blank," but quickly were back up to their old tricks with "Solaris" and "Small Crimes, " which gave way to another of the night's many highlights (and, really, there were few, if any, low points) in "Smoking Umbrellas." Though there had been much cheering for every song over the course of the night (there's no such thing as a casual Failure fan, after all) the crowd reserved the loudest cheering for the one minor hit the band had, "Stuck On You," with its unflinching look at heroin's allure, albeit though an odd, warped lens.

Failure at Varsity Theater, 5/21/14
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik

They wrapped up the proper set with "Heliotropic" and after a few minutes of cheering that bordered on cult-like in it's enthusiasm, the trio unassumingly reclaimed the stage. Andrews deadpanned, "Do you guys want to hear some more songs? Cool, because we want to play some more." They then burst into a massive, buzzy, feedback-damaged encore that consisted of the stellar "Macaque" from Comfort, "Screen Man" and finished with "Daylight" and as they quietly, humbly walked off of the stage. The walk itself was maybe as good an explanation as any as to why Failure wasn't selling out arenas as many of their contemporaries were and, indeed, they were quite worthy of doing: They weren't and still aren't characters like many bands often are. They're three guys who are exceedingly good at what they do and aim to entertain while causing a small measure of hearing loss among those in attendance in the process, maybe. We'll never know exactly, of course. All we can do is continue telling people about them.

Critic's Bias: I first saw Failure when they opened for Tool at First Ave. nearly 20 years ago to the day (May 12, 1994, I still have the stub) and have been in love ever since. The scope of their influence can be measured by taking three hours to listen to their studio albums while developing a headache because "This sounds like..." will run on repeat in your brain the entire time. They've influenced almost everyone who has come after in some way.

The Crowd: Older and hairy.

Overheard in the Crowd: "If you're in a black or grey T-shirt, have a beard and are wearing glasses, you're at this Failure show."

Notebook Dump: The constant noise of the crashing cymbals is so comforting it makes me want to cry.

Another Space Song
Wet Gravity
Saturday Saviour
Sergeant Politeness
Segue 2
Dirty Blue Balloons
The Nurse Who Loved Me


Small Crimes
Smoking Umbrellas
Stuck On You
Segue 3

Screen Man

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