Faith No More impress the heck out of the Skyline Stage crowd
Faith No More | photo by Matthew Shaver

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Faith No More superfan.  In fact, before Sol Invictus, I hadn’t listened to one of their albums in a decade, at least.  But, when I did last listen, I listened to all of them more than a few times through.  There is a forgetfulness that comes with age, and as the concert at the Skyline stage at The Mann drew near, rather than revisit their revered catalog, I decided to go in “blind.”  So without any pretense of my fandom, here is my not entirely unbiased review of Saturday night’s show.

I’m not a huge fan of the Mann – not for anything that they’ve done, mind you – but just because I don’t like concerts at stadium venues and amphitheaters.  The Mann’s Skyline stage is a very different affair, however.  I am quite fond of it (if not the trek to the top to get there).  The open-air, festival-like atmosphere is great, the perimeter lined with food trucks and beer stands is even better, and further testament to Philly’s renewed dedication to becoming a mecca of live sound (if not a slightly oversaturated one).

So, as the sun prepared to set, and the crowd slowly made its way in, something very special to me happened.  After a nearly two decade absence from the US (minus a Coachella appearance in 2012), Swedish hardcore punk giants Refused came on stage and filled a long standing hole in my heart.  Decked out and ready to play, they did not hesitate to destroy any illusions that their long absence may have weakened their spirit.

Refused | photo by Matthew Shaver

Refused | photo by Matthew Shaver

Wasting no time, the highly energetic set, kicked in to high gear by the antics of Dennis Lyxzen, made sure to touch on a lot of the important points of Refused’s way-to-short beginnings, which were extremely important to modern punk.  Their set was brief, this was after all an opening spot, and not co-headlining, and maybe the crowd wasn’t all aware of what they were witnessing, but they were vocally appreciative, and I’ll be damned if at 43 years of age, Dennis doesn’t crowd surf like a teenager.

There was a long break in between sets, and understandably so.  Faith No More’s set required a bit of coordination, and they held their crew to those aesthetic standards.  Dressed all in white, they proceeded to white wash the entire stage.  The background, the monitors, even the instruments.  Once that was complete, a variety of live (or so I’ve read) flowers were placed around the stage.  All of this created a feeling of ironic sanitization.  With no distracting set pieces, a maximum amount of focus could be paid to those onstage.

Now, I know that Faith No More did not originate with Mike Patton. Mike Brodin, Bill Gould, and Roddy Bottum are it’s three longest standing members, with the role of guitar being the most highly turned over role, followed by vocalist.  The pre-Patton era has some excellent work in it, but let’s not split-hairs and go ahead and say that Patton helped bring them in to their status as rock legends.  His vocal abilities are objectively amazing and his work ethic is legendary.  Combined with the musical talents of some of the finest instrumentalists to grace the outer boundaries of mainstream rock makes for quite the enigma on album.  In person it’s a whole other story.

Their presence on stage is what every rock musician should aspire towards.  High energy, with not a wasted note or moment.  I’ve been to lots of rock shows, and I can say without hyperbole that watching Faith No More perform blew away a lot of the acts I’ve seen that I like a lot more.  Their career spanning set wasted no time in making sure the audience knew they were appreciated as well.  Heavy hits like “Epic” “Caffeine” and “Ashes to Ashes” hit hard.  Patton and crew even took a break to slow things down with a cover of the Commodores “Easy.”  While it was initially taken as a joke, once the crowd realized they were going to do the whole song, every man, woman, and child there was in to it.

If the evening had a failing, it was one that I don’t believe was the fault of the bands, and not even one that I noticed until it was pointed out to me.  The sound board loved the guitar and the vocals.  The rest of the band was almost background noise.  The guitar and the vocals sounded awesome, but it’s all we could hear.  I watched some live clips of the other shows and the bass, and especially keyboards, were featured a lot more.  It didn’t dampen the experience for me, but Faith No More is the sum of its parts, so it would have been nice to evenly experience all of those parts.

Faith No More setlist
Cone Of Shame
From Out Of Nowhere
Black Friday
Get Out
Midlife Crisis
Everything’s Ruined
The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies
Easy (Commodores cover)
Separation Anxiety
Ashes To Ashes

Sol Invictus
Digging the Grave
The Last to Know

Refused setlist
The Shape Of Punk To Come
Dawkins Christ
Rather Be Dead
Old Friends / New War
Liberation Frequency
Thought Is Blood
The Deadly Rhythm
New Noise

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