Sunday, January 18, 2015
25 YEARS AGO TOMORROW: I SAW VOIVOD, SOUNDGARDEN AND FAITH NO MORE AT THE "NEW" RITZ
This was around the time I started going to club shows as opposed to arena and theater concerts. I'd already seen Living Colour with de la soul (the first hip-hop act I'd ever seen live) at the "New" Ritz a few months earlier. That show is permanently etched in memory, and so is this one.
Where Living Colour had a lot of hype out of the gate - in large part because of Mick Jagger's involvement in the debut album, and their pretty commercial sound got them radio play pretty much out of the gate - this was a bit different. Voivod was a well-established band in the underground thrash metal community, but didn't have anywhere close to the mainstream recognition of bands like Slayer or Anthrax or even Suicidal Tendencies or Exodus. And despite the fact that they had a video on Headbanger's Ball (a cover of an early Syd Barrett-era, they weren't a band who people outside of the thrash metal community were aware of. I'd been familiar with them thanks to WSOU in New Jersey, which is where I discovered most metal bands that I enjoyed back then (including Metallica and Anthrax). But it was interesting that Soundgarden and Faith No More were opening for them, as neither band ever seemed to want to be classified as "metal."
Faith No More was the opening band, although within a few months, they'd eclipse both of the other bands, popularity-wise. I had their then-new album, The Real Thing, which was their first with frontman Mike Patton. Like Living Colour, they had really clean production, but they were seriously weird. Each guy seemed like he was in a different band: guitarist Jim Martin was definitely the metalhead. Keyboardist Roddy Boddum, for some reason reminded me of someone from a progressive rock band (years later, I'd hear his "other" band, Imperial Teen, and realize he was kind of a power pop guy, something that didn't seem to influence FNM at all). Drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin was brutal, he seemed like he could be in an industrial band. Bassist Billy Gould was funky as hell and reminded me a bit of Flea sometimes, and Patton was more than a little Anthony Kiedis-like, although he was a better singer (and a better rapper). He was clearly the focal point of the band: the audience loved him, and he seemed to hate them, which made them love him more. (This didn't work as well when FNM opened for Metallica and Guns N Roses a few years later.)
So, they were a bit like the Chili Peppers, but this was 1990 and the Chili Peppers weren't at all popular. FNM released The Real Thing a month before the Chili Peppers released Mother's Milk, so it wasn't like they were jumping on some huge trend. And let's be honest: when you listen to a song like "Falling To Pieces," it's a lot more commercial than anything RHCP had done at that point. I'm listening to The Real Thing as I write this, and it's hard to imagine that it seemed so groundbreaking at the time, but it did. It was an exciting time for music: it felt like different kinds of music were combining in strange and cool new ways, and Faith No More (like Living Colour and Jane's Addiction, two of my favorite bands at that time) really embodied it. They weren't as orthodox about metal as the metal bands that I loved (Iron Maiden and Judas Priest) or the aforementioned thrash bands. They definitely didn't love the hair metal bands (and neither did I). This mirrored the way I felt about music. I still loved the same metal bands I always had loved, but it wasn't all I wanted to listen to. And I definitely didn't have much time for hair metal, and FNM didn't seem to either. They seemed to be a midway point between metal and "alternative" music that I was getting into, now that I was in college (notably the Cure).
Soundgarden were killer. This is notable, because I saw them many times after that, and they were rarely even good in concert, until after they reunited in the '00s. In 1990 they had something to prove, but they weren't really trying to win anyone over. It was more like they were trying to shove their music through your skull. It was really heavy - this was the Louder Than Love tour - but it was almost uglier than metal. It had nothing to do with thrash, it was more about old Black Sabbath. But there was another element to it, and I guess that was the Bauhaus/Killing Joke influence that the band would often cite. But anyway, they were stellar on the night I saw them. They were so abrasive, it would have been impossible to predict that they'd be at the center of the zeitgeist for a beautiful and scary moment, just a few years later. That everyone would try to sound like them, look like them, write song titles that sounded like Soundgarden song titles. They seemed so left of center at that particular moment, and if you loved them, it was like this secret thing. I guess fans of any underground band that later sold millions of records knows what I'm talking about. I was never mad about any of their success though: just like the world knew who Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were, I thought they should also know about Soundgarden. And for my money, no heavy band ever matured as powerfully as Soundgarden, but that's an essay for another time.
I remember it was freezing that night, but I'm glad my brother and I went to the show; when we were there, it felt like we were seeing something special. All these years later, I know that we did. It's been amazing watching Soundgarden's comeback: their initial reunion tour was spectacular, their reunion album King Animal was way better than I could have expected and that tour was amazing as well. And I got to see one of Faith No More's reunion shows a few years back, and that blew my mind too. But I'm so glad I got to see both of them when I did.