Phoenix, AZ — Failure returned to Crescent Ballroom for the third time since their reunion in late 2013, much to the delight of an eager and boisterous crowd. This was the first US tour in over 3 years, thanks to COVID, and was to support their newest album Wild Type Droid. This is their sixth studio album, and marks a major change for the band. Their previous albums have carried the band and their followers into outer space – one of the descriptors of the band is “space rock” – but this time the theme of the album will be a bit different. In a press release, guitarist and bassist Greg Edwards stated that “This feels like a good place and time to abandon the space iconography and theme once and for all. In a lot of ways, this album feels like a return to earth. All minds have been called back to their bodies. There’s a lot to attend to right in front of us.”
As Failure reached down to firmly grasp terra firma once more, their fans welcomed the news of the latest tour with open arms and thinly veiled excitement. They have been described as having “cult status” by Rolling Stone, and based on the buzz that was flowing through the venue as fans eagerly awaited their beloved band, it is a fitting moniker. Failure, formed in 1992, has embraced social media with a fierceness that is not often seen in bands that formed before the amalgamation of the internet and social media. In an era where word of mouth was currency, they built a following through tours with Tool, and a solid discography that has withstood the test of time. In fact, it could be argued that while formed in the 90s, Failure is anything but a 90s band. They were merely a band before their time.
Failure completed the albums Comfort in 1992, Magnified in 1994, and Fantastic Planet in 1996. They stepped into a Lollapalooza slot in 1997 when Korn dropped out. Citing “personal differences”, they officially broke up on November 19, 1997, only to reunite in 2013. In the interim, former Failure rhythm guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen joined A Perfect Circle, who recorded a cover of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me” for their Thirteenth Step LP.
Failure’s cosmic sound appears on 2015’s The Heart is a Monster album and 2018’s In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind. Their tour for their recent release Wild Type Droid blends celestial sounds of previous albums with the “return to earth” sound they are making now. The band may have an on again, off again relationship, but their fans are here to stay.
In a social media announcement on March 31st, 2022, Failure informed their fans that they could preview a 30-minute trailer for their upcoming eponymous documentary, which is slated to be released in 2023. A nearly 7-minute teaser of the documentary, a trailer of the trailer as it were, was played right before Failure took the stage. This announcement of the band’s upcoming film was met with unfettered excitement online, and this carried over into the night of the show.
Those who have attended live music events at any point know that it is not unusual for fans to slowly trickle in, but on this night the vast majority of the crowd was in the venue when the lights were turned down at exactly 8:30 pm. The extended Failure documentary trailer brought raucous cheers from the eager crowd. It is a safe bet that much of the crowd had watched the teaser online, and there was an air of anticipation. Indeed, some in the crowd cheered at every new musician or actor who appeared on the screen to discuss Failure’s impact on them personally and their music careers.
The preview had a parade of big music industry names: Hayley Williams (Paramore – who covered “Stuck On You” in their 2006 EP The Summer Tic), Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer), Butch Vig (Garbage), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and commentary from actress and comedian Margaret Cho, among others. As the sneak peek wrapped up, the conversation turned to the drug use that led to the band break up in 1997. As of yet, no release date has been given for the Failure documentary.
Failure’s current members are frontman and lead guitarist Ken Andrews, multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Greg Edwards, and drummer Kellii Scott. The trio took the stage with a “What’s happening Phoenix?” shout out from Andrews. They launched into the hard-hitting song “Submarines” off Wild Type Droid. This was the first song the band wrote after the world shut down due to the pandemic. There is a certain risk in writing a song that relates to a world changing event such as the pandemic that upended nearly every smidgen of the day to day lives of all of us, as future generations likely will not fully understand the trauma and impact it left on all of us. That is where the beauty and timelessness of the band’s songwriting comes in: while this generation will immediately understand the deeper meaning of the song, it will resonate later on for a new generation of music lovers for a completely different reason.
The music video released for “Submarines” consists of the band staring into the camera – giving the viewer a sensation that perhaps the band is attempting to look deep into their souls – while also having their profile featured, glitching in and out. The intensity of this video carries on to their concerts, with a focused Andrews rarely speaking – though he did acknowledge the fans who called out between the songs. His abrupt (but not rude) style of communication while on stage is a drastic contrast of his voice, which is – in itself – a juxtaposition to the music. Andrews’ smooth vocals mixed with the crunch and crash that comes with the grunge-meets-space-rock sound that Failure is associated with has a familiar and comforting feel to it. Imagine a warm, well-worn blanket wrapped around you as you stare off into space imagining the possibilities of the unknown, and you have an idea of what a concert with Failure is like.
They pulled from each of their 6 albums during the show. Right before the band played “Counterfeit Sky” from The Heart Is a Monster, Andrews stated they were doing double shots from each album – at least two songs back-to-back from the same album. There was a single exception to this: “Salt Wound” was the sole song from Comfort, their very first album. Indeed, there was a near symmetry to the show, with 2 songs from Magnified, The Heart Is A Monster, and In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind, as well as 6 songs from Fantastic Planet, and 6 from Wild Type Droid.
As incredible as the evening was, it was not without some small flaws. The first was when the sound cut out suddenly during the opening moments of “Distorted Fields,” stopping everyone except Scott, who was so focused on his craft – and also had headphones on – that he continued to drum for a few more seconds. While the sound techs scrambled to get the show back on track, one fan called out “Acoustic version!” which was followed with a rimshot by Scott. The techs quickly fixed the issue, and the show got back on track. The second was a restart of fan-favorite “Stuck On You.” Neither mishap detracted from the overall magic of the show and had the paradoxical effect of enhancing it a bit with how quickly and gracefully they were handled.
After finishing up “Half Moon,” from Wild Type Droid, during the encore, Andrews told the ecstatic audience “You may have noticed we haven’t played anything from our 3rd album.” This was rectified quickly, as the final 6 songs all came from Fantastic Planet, culminating with “Daylight,” which is also the final song on the album.
The concert was a journey as the music videos playing behind the band throughout the night took the fans to another planet and then back to earth to get rather macro with various insects, such as a praying mantis named Iggy from their latest music video. After the finale, it felt like an extended goodbye with a long instrumental performance, and this journey came to an end with Andrews telling the fans, “Thank you Phoenix, we love you!”
Failure is a band that is absolutely worth going out of your way to see perform live. There are layers upon layers to their music. It would be easy to forget it’s a band of only 3 members. It is easy to see how the band continues to thrive by word of mouth, and why the fans are loyal to the point of near obsession. The praise they receive is well-founded and deserved.
- Mercury Mouth
- Salt Wound
- Wonderful Life
- Atom City Queen
- Counterfeit Sky
- Distorted Fields
- Force Fed Rainbow
- Bring Back the Sound
- Bad Translation
- Half Moon
- Segue 3
- The Nurse Who Loved Me
- Another Space Song
- Stuck on You
Failure’s Phoenix Setlist
Photography: Kara Blakemore
Failure – Crescent Ballroom 6-5-22
Photography © Electric Eye Photo AZ
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