The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12

The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

The Faint
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, December 13, 2012

As the stage at First Avenue went from being shrouded in darkness to illuminated with flashing, ever-strobing lights that changed from red to white to blue on Thursday night, Omaha natives the Faint began their set with "Unseen Hand." This time out they were celebrating ten (technically eleven) years since Danse Macabre, the album that pushed them toward a wider audience and a decade on, it was clear why that was. They somehow made their brand of dark, brooding new wave, filled with seedy stories of regret, sexual obsession and dysfunction palatable to a large section of the populace and haven't looked back -- until now, at least.

The set ran into bit of trouble early on as one of the samplers started malfunctioning, sending a piercing burst of feedback though the monitors for a good five minutes before lead singer Todd Fink, drummer Clark Baechle, keyboardist Jacob Thiele and a couple of the band's road crew finally fixed it. The set continued smoothly from there as they followed with "Dropkick the Punks" from 2004's Wet from Birth, which plugged the crowd into the show and immediately got them dancing -- most of whom did not stop for the entire 100-minute set.

The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12
The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

"Desperate Guys" was next and while this was ostensibly a celebration of Danse Macabre, it was obvious we were going to also see performances of some of the best songs from their entire catalog, which made for a much more engaging show than simply a front-to-back run-through of the album. Those types of shows are fun, to be sure, but the guesswork and element of surprise are taken out of the equation at those shows and they have become so common that the structure is starting to stale a bit.

"Victim Convenience" from 1999's Blank-Wave Arcade pushed the show into overdrive as the screen behind the band finally lit up, offering bird's-eye view animation sequences framed in geometric shapes, which slowly gave over to odd graphics and nonsensical, visually alluring type treatments that scrolled endlessly throughout the remainder of the set. The lights blazed in every direction, some stark white, others a muted red, making it look like a FBI raid on a strip club was unfolding onstage. After a fantastic version of "Take Me to the Hospital," They began the celebration proper of Danse Macabre with the three-punch knockout of "Agenda Suicide," "Glass Danse" and "Total Job," as an avalanche of stark, brooding keyboards and bone-snapping guitar riffs pummeled the sweaty crowd.

The rest of the album followed in short order and not completely in track-by-track form, which made its presentation more interesting. In addition, the band hadn't performed "Violent" on tour prior to this, as Fink noted they had never learned to play it well, so we really did get to see something "new." As "Ballad of a Paralysed Citizen" wrapped up, Justin Thiele announced, "Thus concludes Danse Macabre. Thank you all for coming, there is still more." 

They then proceeded to somehow find an extra gear in which to operate as they exploded into "The Geeks Were Right" from 2008's Fasciinatiion and rolled through a couple of others, which included "Mirror Error" among them and closed the set with a cover of Sonic Youth's "Mote" than registered more as a reimagining (and a great one, at that) and "Worked Up So Sexual," possibly the best ode to exotic dancers ever to come into existence (sorry, Mötley Crüe).

The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12
The Faint at First Avenue, 12/13/12
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

The three-song encore was quick and designed to do one thing: get everyone dancing all the way to their cars for the drive home. The new, as-yet-unreleased "Evil Voices," "I Disappear" and "Paranoiattack" got the crowd dancing hard and fast but, curiously, nobody even seemed worn out by the end of it. As the Faint walked off stage through a cloud of fog, offering the crowd polite, Midwestern "Thank you"s and waves, it was amazing to think that Danse Macabre, a pitch-black, weirdly danceable record by a band from, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska, managed not age at all, to say nothing of the fact that it survived being put out of its misery in the cut-out bin.

It meant something then and means something now. A decade on, though, it's still tough to admit the reason it still means something to so many people is because we can so easily relate to it. The darkness, the frustration, the dysfunction, its always there; always will be -- but that doesn't mean you can't dance while you figure out how to deal with it.

Critic's Bias: I got into the Faint via Wet from Birth, the album that followed Danse Macabre. While the former still remains my favorite Faint release, they made a strong case for the latter Thursday night.

The Crowd: 20s-30s and looked to be mostly women; regardless of age or gender, however, everyone came ready to dance.

Random Tidbit: One of the drunkest men I have ever seen in my life (he nearly fell over twice and I was amazed security didn't remove him) was finally semi-rescued by an almost equally drunk woman. She proceeded to stand him up and they promptly began making out and grabbing at each other. They were later seen exchanging phone numbers.

Notebook Dump: Watching all the vocals and effects that sound like studio trickery unfold in real time is pretty stunning.

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