Review: Failure at the Fillmore in Silver Spring

Failure. Photo courtesy of Failure (the band).
Failure. Photo courtesy of Failure (the band).

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2014 − When Failure (the band) stepped on stage recently for their show at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, it’s likely the first time anyone in the audience had ever seen them. Even for those who experienced Failure live years ago would at best recall them as a fading memory. This is a roundabout way of saying it’s been a really long time since Failure undertook a live tour.

In truth, Failure was never an immensely popular band. This isn’t to say they weren’t successful, as evidenced by the nice turnout for their show at the Fillmore. Yet in their earlier days, they were vaguely caught up in the grunge movement and the alternative scene without every feeling a part of either.

This kind of genre tug-of-war can do bad things to a band, like tearing them apart or making them appear out of step with the well known trends of rock music in a given time span. On the other hand, one interesting result of varying from current fashion is that such a band can acquire a fringe status, giving them more credibility for individuality and creativity than bands that received massive radio play almost by happenstance in the 1990s.

It used to feel like the only bands that made “reunion tours” were those that had fairly large followings at some point in the past. These days, though, it seems like more and more bands are reviving their former acts and dusting off their old line-ups for another go around for entirely different reasons.

Whether that’s because they feel like reviving their old gig to perform a few shows together to recapture some of those great old-time vibes, or actually get the band back together as a viable performing entity, the reason behind many revivals today seem quirky if not disingenuous.

Whatever the reasoning behind Failure’s 2014 tour, they are in one way, simply another band from the ‘90s that’s going on the road again for the first time in a decade or so just because.

Whatever the case, a goodly number of people not only still care about their music from back in the day; an equal or greater number of people are stepping up to pay attention to it for the first time.

Perhaps when a band’s entire discography is easily at everyone’s fingertips with without requiring much in the way of investment, the wide range of today’s listening and playback software and devices changes the musical equation drastically, particularly when compared to the 1990s.

However events transpired, Failure’s recent reunion and subsequent tour is an interesting one. The two primary members of the band − guitarist Ken Andrews and bassist Greg Edwards − didn’t really need this tour in any substantial way. Both of them have been successful outside of Failure, and arguably more so than they ever were when Failure’s original incarnation existed.

On the other hand, Failure’s music is a known commodity that is clearly still near to them, having unquestionably led to the production of some excellent music at one point in time. If this is something that continues to hold sway over them, then the idea of a reunion tour and revival of Failure has some current potential.

That’s particularly the case if it becomes clear that old fans, and perhaps many new ones, will eagerly return to their original commitment regardless of where they were in back in 1997.

Andrews and Edwards – and their final drummer Kellii Scott – seem to understand this notion and have likely embraced it. If they didn’t, it would certainly make the set-up of their show seem more than a little curious. That’s because their current tour and their performance here definitely have the distinct aura of a passion project rather than that of a standard revival show.

One clue favoring this notion is Failure’s exclusion of an opening band. This was a bit unusual but also logical, given that Failure hasn’t been together on tour in 18 years.

Instead of featuring a warm-up band, Failure prepped the crowd for their grand re-entry with a short video montage of clips ranging from “Ren & Stimpy” to the 1973 animated French-Czech film “Fantastic Planet,”which was in part the inspiration for their eponymous third and final album.

This unusual buildup leads at least the band’s old fans to remember just how careful Failure is in the way they go about crafting a mood and atmosphere in their live set. That wasn’t always something they were able to capture on their three albums.

But at the Fillmore, they were able to re-create their sound when it was at its peak nearly two decades ago. While on stage, they proved they were still capable of giving the audience their layered, textured, and guitar-driving best for the entire night.

At their peak during their first iteration, Failure was able craft songs that weren’t necessarily pop songs or the antithesis of their Seattle counterparts; but they still typified what space rock meant in the ‘90s.

Failure proved to be an alternative to the more grounded and downtrodden members of the alternative nation. That hurt them a little bit in the short term, but at the same time it made them unique within the musical continuity.

Listening to them at the Fillmore, it became clear that Failure is able to make their sound seem considerably more timeless than it likely was in the ‘90s, given that now they’ve escaped the limitations of the various scenes that originally formed them.

Both the sound and live show Fortune has been presenting on tour feels expansive and progressive in a way that would appear impossible to achieve for band that has accrued the experience Failure has over the years. If their apparent revival were to stop at the conclusion of the tour, it would still have been a nice epilogue to the history of a band that may never have thought it was going to have one.

But the generally positive response to their tour seems to have encouraged them to surge forward with their current project; meaning that shows like the one at the Fillmore are probably only the beginning of a new phase for Failure.

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