After 17 years of silence, Failure have found success. The influential and critically acclaimed space grunge band recently landed an opening slot for prog-metal giants Tool on a recent west coast tour, sold out a slew of club shows in LA, and are set to play various festival appearances throughout the summer. Vancouver made the cut a on the club tour; many local concert veterans and new-time fans were hungry for artistic and space inspired 90s rock at The Rickshaw Theatre.
The band Failure, as ironically implied by their name, did not achieve commercial success during the hey-day of grunge. Failure’s debut record Comfort was recorded with the assistance of Steve Albini, an idiosyncratic Chicago based engineer with a passion for gritty music realism and a champion of analogue recording techniques. The sophomore release Magnified featured a brighter, more dynamic group with leanings towards more complex and conceptual song themes. In 1996, with the addition of another guitarist Troy Troy Van Leeuwen (n a core member of Queens of the Stone Age), Failure rented a house, rehearsing and recording continuously. Their third and final effort, Fantastic Planet, a conceptual, lovingly sequenced album with segues, strong song writing and ambitious instrumentation is a work well ahead of its time. Frictions between the dual songwriters of Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards eventually ground the creative unit to a stop; addictions, personal disputes and pressure from a corporate record label contributed to the demise of Failure. The record label’s failure to distribute their records made the acquisition of Failure’s music a trying effort in the days before accessible internet. Fantastic Planet never saw proper touring or promotion.
The evening began with twenty minute sequence of clips from classic movies and art films of inspiration value to the band. The scenes from The Mirror and Solaris, by Andrei Tarkovsky as well as Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the French-Czech collaborative animated film Fantastic Planet, generated a spacey headspace for the audience as the three musicians took to the stage.
Opening with “Another Space Song,” the three piece churned through the vast bulk of their landmark effort Fantastic Planet , a few older cuts and a song composed since the group’s reunion. Other favourites like “Sergeant Politeness” and “Saturday Saviour’ received rousing encouragement from the crowd. Gritty but seductive melodies of dirty punkish bass, blistering distorted guitar and heavily 90s styled vocal poetry distinguish Failure from others 90s acts: “I got high on scrapings from my nails…And I’m dreaming of dirty blue balloons.” Succeeding as a nostalgic trip for fans never expecting to see many songs, the vibe of the floor was spirited, primal and beer inspired.
The stage was adorned with lightning strips on the guitar amps and drum set. Shifting in colour from song to song and either glowing red or an illuminating white, the dark stage of the Rickshaw Theatre looked particularly spacey. Both Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards switched guitars and basses constantly, with each member displaying considerable skill in multiple instruments. Andrews, the lead vocalist and dominant guitar player, has worked in sound production since the dissolution of the band. He and Greg Edwards, guitar player for the dark, minimalist and excellent band Autolux, each displayed great skill over the evening’s sonic presentations. Andrews had a personal mixing board on his side of the stage while Edwards’ side featured a large swath of distortion pedals and an electric piano that was not used until the end of the performance. Starting the buzzing intro of their biggest single “Stuck on You”, the crowd cheered as the wall of crashing guitars and melody from Greg Edward’s overdrive-laden electric piano. “The Nurse who Loved Me,” a song popularized by the rendition by A Perfect Circle’s cover on their album Thirteenth Step, was received with rapturous applause. The body language of Greg Edwards brightened as he played a brilliant rendition of one of his finest compositions. Ken Andrews sang some of the strongest lyrics from a past decade: “Say hello to the Rug’s Topography/It holds quite a lot of interest with your face down on it.” The majesty, ambition and success of Fantastic Planet surfaces in its live performance; most of the album, including an acoustic segue, were played live.
The encore, starting with a track from their cloudy debut Comfort, included a newly penned composition from the reunited band titled “Come Crashing”. The bold, crisp cymbals, floor tom heavy drums and progressive song structures of the band’s set were also evident in the new track. Distinctively Failure in a sonic capacity, the song shows more of a resemblance towards the alt rock of A Perfect Circle. Failure have played play a significant influence on post grunge music and an up and coming generation of guitarists. Failure ended their encore with “Daylight” a bombastic, heavy feeling poetic piece that serves as the finale to Fantastic Planet. Stepping into the night air after the show, it was hard not to look up at the dark night sky and wonder about space.