Photos by Jason K. Powers.
“Am I always angry? No. Am I always full of hope? No. But even if my lyrics are dark as sh*t, there’s always something uplifting about the music. I try to rise above my issues,” said Richard Patrick of Filter, describing the band’s latest release, “Anthems for the Damned.”
It’s an honest quote and a fairly accurate distillation of the band’s new album. In fact, “Anthems for the Damned” holds its own as a solid record, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could argue against its “pro-troops/anti-war” stance — and its flavor of anger in the face of hopelessness. Too bad the album’s strength wasn’t well represented with the band’s July 7 Bluebird Theater show.
Filter, formed by Patrick (with various members over the past 13 years) out of his association with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, hovers around a post-grunge, industrial sound, but (at least in the studio) attempts to infuse it with an almost Jane’s Addiction-type melodic sensibility. But the sound on stage continues to miss the mark.
I can’t help but think that if Patrick could lighten up on the anger, shame, and self- (and society-) loathing act, the band would carry a much more believable and relaxed presence to the stage — one much closer to their recorded persona.
On that Monday night at the Bluebird, after a protracted sound check (and re-check, and re-check) Patrick and the band took the stage and blazed through a 12-song set in about 80 minutes. They visited all the high points of the band’s brief career, including “Where Do We Go From Here,” “American Cliche,” “Soldiers of Misfortune,” “It’s Gonna Kill Me,” “Jurassitol” and, of course, their one big hit, “Hey Man Nice Shot.” Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the songs blended into a long stream of the same old post-industrial (post-NIN) sound.
Joined by Mitchell Marlow (guitar), John Spiker (bass) and Mika Fineo (drums), the band started strong with “Welcome to the Fold,” from 1999’s “Title of Record.” With Patrick sporting dark sunglasses and even darker hair, he exuded a definite rock star swagger and strong charisma.
But that night, his attempts at being the screaming Perry Ferrel/Alain Jourgensen mix came closer to a younger Ric Ocasek trying to sing in the Steve Perry vocal range. (Ever imagined a really, really mad Ric Ocasek? It’s pretty comical.) Chalk it up to tour fatigue, perhaps. Word is that the band’s Salt Lake City show scheduled for July 8 was cancelled. Haven’t heard about the remaining dates.
Patrick’s parlay with the audience was alternately intense and laughable. Though he screamed often in anger about the disgust he holds for the situation we find our society in — centered around the Iraq war, but certainly not limited to it — he could have been reading off of cue cards at times. At one point he screamed to the young, half-hearted mosh pit: “Hey — we’re all gonna die, right? It’s what you do in the next 50 years that’ll count! Look what Abraham Lincoln did! YEEEAAAAHHH!!!” — surely causing a few trips in step for the scattered slammers.
One point of the night that the band can happily hang their collective dog tags on would be the rendition of “Soldiers of Misfortune.” Patrick wasted no words in the song, calling George W. Bush to task for being entirely responsible for the quagmire in Iraq, and calling on all of us to remain resolute in our support of the troops this administration has stranded there, or that have only returned dead as a result. And the band delivered that message powerfully.
It wasn’t so much the case with their attempt at their remix/collaboration of The Crystal Method’s “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do,” which appeared on 1997’s “Spawn: The Album.” The absence of the Crystal boys was palpable, leaving the song half-full.
A highlight came as the band returned for the encore, when Patrick handed an audience member the mic so he could propose to his girlfriend. After raucous cheering, guitarist Marlow yelled into the mic that his girlfriend “said F**K YES!!” — which caused more cheering, and arguably the highest level of excitement from the audience the whole evening, (and certainly the most positive moment).
Filter’s biggest detracting element was that Patrick wraps hate around himself like a bathrobe, posturing on stage, spitting water on the audience in mock rage and continuously trying to get them to validate his mood. “We’re all in this together, right? This is a rock show, right? We’re all screwed, right?” It’s hard to take seriously, and seemed increasingly contrived as the night progressed. I kept wondering if he might make a good visiting character on an episode of “The Simpsons” — he’d come with his own built-in social/ironic commentary.
Filter’s live sound and persona is still locked up in the Ministry of Trent. It’s unfortunate for the band — their studio work is so much better, much fuller, much more satisfying. It almost sounds hopeful.
Billy Thieme is a Denver-based writer and regular Reverb contributor.
Contributor Jason K. Powers is a Denver-based photographer.