In 2010, Faith No More returned to their hometown of San Francisco to play three ferocious, wildly-anticipated concerts that marked their first appearance in the Bay Area since their disbandment in the late 90s. The general reaction, from the most hardcore fans to the relatively casual listeners, was extremely positive, albeit with the lingering curiosity of “…but what’s next?” After a handful of tours, a smattering of festival appearances, and two years of almost total silence — during which the prolific band members worked on some of their other projects, as well — something more official surfaced in the latter half of 2014, in the form of two new songs: the slow-stalking “Motherfucker” and the chugging, anthemic “Superhero”, both of which showed up in their live sets that year. Now, with their seventh album Sol Invictus soon to arrive in record stores, and a mountain of tour dates taking up their schedule this year (paired with everyone from ANTEMASQUE to Refused), it seemed like the perfect time for Faith No More to return to the Warfield — this time with two shows, instead of three — and their transformation in the last five years is not only palpable, but an utter delight to witness.
While each evening seemed to begin slowly, it was most likely the furious, borderline rabid anticipation for the headliners of the night that cast a shadow over the opening acts for these two performances, despite the fact that both were San Francisco natives and relatively famous in the still-fervent punk scene of the Bay Area. With Spanish ska-sters La Plebe starting things off on Sunday, and the women (and man) of Frightwig kicking out their own swingin’ jams on Monday, there was an eclectic palate of fast, fiery, no-nonsense rocking that took up almost the first hour of each night. Whether the bands were toned down due to their opener status, or were simply low on energy (and not responding well to being ignored by the crowd), was unclear; La Plebe is infamously popular in smaller, local clubs, and Frightwig definitely tried to crack a few silly-to-raunchy jokes during their time onstage (not to mention having their own legacy as one of the longest-reining dominantly-female punk groups). Nevertheless, they still plowed through their sets, and Frightwig ended theirs far more impressively — in the form of drummer Cecilia Kuhn taking the mic and leading her bandmates to a roaring, cheering stomp of a closing song, very reminiscent of Patti Smith in her candor and mannerisms.
For each night, the transition between the opening act and the main event could not have been more blatant: in addition to amps, drums and guitars being marched off the stage, and white-clothed monitors and mic stands replacing them, a massive wall of artificial flowers was built, piece by piece, across the edge of the stage, with additional bouquets covering the amps and platforms on the back of the stage. Aside from “The Gimp”, the black-leather-clad “mascot” that Faith No More have been parading around with them ever since their return to the music world in 2014, all of the band members were clad all in white, including the snarling, twitchy-eyed Mike Patton (who wore a red bandana across his face during the beginning of the first night), and the ever-impressive Mike Bordin on drums. There was more than just the costumes that brought the band together this time, however; the camaraderie and chemistry of the musicians was now firmly in place, even further cemented that it had been at their homecoming shows in 2010, and their songs both new and old shone with marvelous vitality.
While most Faith No More concerts have a history of seeing the rest of the band eclipsed by the manic mannerisms of Patton, these shows showed that all five members of the group were holding their own and fully embracing the wild energy of the live show, solidly blasting out song after song with relentless precision. Keyboardist and acting-emcee Roddy Bottum lashed himself back and forth across his synths, and his occasional forays into gentle backup serenading paired off brilliantly with the slow-but-steady headbanging carried out by bassist Billy Gould. Jon Hudson, the band’s guitarist since their last pre-breakup work Album Of The Year, was not as animated as his cohorts, but was stunning to behold in his elegant segues of playing styles: from the sinewy funk of “Evidence” to the roaring thrash of “Surprise! You’re Dead!”, Hudson laid the foundations for each song with remarkable ease, all the while with a look of deep concentration and meditation upon his countenance.
Patton, on the other hand, knew very well how much of the energy of the crowd was focused upon him, and did his best to keep the balance spread well about the stage. He engaged the crowd very mildly, sporting long minutes’ worth of wide grins and playful head-shakes at the churning mass before them (if it wasn’t obvious, the floor of the Warfield had reached impressive levels of energetic stomping, shoving and moshing for nearly all of their set, each night), but saved his sudden leap into the crowd for the second night, which was particularly unexpected as he did so during the slow groove of “Evidence”. The second night, in general, saw Patton conversing with the crowd far more, whether to solicit them for sports scores (“How are the Warriors doing?”) to railing back on hecklers trying to get the band to change up their songs mid-set. None of this, however, is to say that he was distracted, bored, or not into his actual performance; on the contrary, he was in peak form, shifting from his high-pitched wails to a thundering baritone at the drop of a hat, his hackles raised and his mic being alternately eaten furiously or gripped with an alarming intensity.
While the two nights bore many of the same songs across their setlists — from the slow-burn crunch of “Caffeine” and the smash hits “Epic” and “Midlife Crisis”, to the cult favorites “The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies” and the mesmerizingly noisy “King For A Day” — there were a few surprises for those who went to one (or both) nights. Fans of their seminal work Angel Dust were treated to “Land Of Sunshine” to kick off the first night, which was switched with “From Out Of Nowhere” for the second; continuing the trend with songs from The Real Thing, Faith No More played “Surprise! You’re Dead!” to wild cheers on Monday night, where the night before they had treated their King For A Day fans to a still-very-well-received “Get Out!” instead. The set jumped from album to album with a timeless ease, with genres switching from song to song nearly as much as the lights changed color onstage. The only part of the experience to elicit upset from the crowd was the absence of a second encore for the latter show, though it was hard to follow up such a soothing ending as the band’s cover of Bacharach’s “This Guy’s In Love With You”, which was the final song of the night for Monday’s performance.
I experienced Sunday night at the front and center of the guardrail, having waited in line since 1:00pm to get such a valuable spot; for Monday I was lucky enough to be on the opposite side, battling the plastic foliage for the chance to get a few good shots. Having seen Faith No More once before, I had an idea of what I was in for, but I wouldn’t trade this weekend for one spent less at the Warfield. Absent were the hulking brutes that were snarling for “Epic” the entire night; present were several thousand hardcore fans, young and old, who knew every word to every song, and a band onstage that was fiercely eager to engage them. All of Faith No More’s pieces, new and old — and, from the sound of things, Sol Invictus will be quite the exciting foray into interesting territory — were performed with precision, grandeur and a thrilling level of energy. This is not a band on another victory lap: the leaders of the alt cult have returned, and, in their words: “The Reunion Tour is over; in 2015 things are going to change.”
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2015 Jonathan Pirro.
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