So packed were the streets around Sokol Saturday night that I wound up parking on 16th Street. The Underground apparently was hosting a metal show, while upstairs, where I was headed, it was The Faint’s sold-out show. It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in the auditorium, but I talked to a couple people who said they’d seen it even more crowded before. Maybe so, but I doubt that it’s ever been steamier. The room felt like a sauna. I showed up at just before 11 after all the openers had finished their sets. Guys were pushing through the crowd shirtless, drenched in sweat, leaving slime marks whenever they brushed against your clothes. Like the Tilly show a few weeks ago, I was still getting used to the smoke-free environment. Without the smoke, the place smelled like hair products, popcorn and body odor. I didn’t even try to get a beer; the crowd was so thick around the bar. Instead, I found a lean-to spot behind one of the large, industrial stand-up electric fans, figuring I’d get a breeze from the inflow while the fan pushed everyone else’s stink-sweat in the other direction. The plan worked.
Shortly after 11, the lights went down and on stage in a shower of blazing strobes came The Faint. And the crowd went wild. This despite the usual blown-out, over-bassed sound that turned everything into a bowel-rattling, boom-static mess. To be fair, I was standing beneath the balcony overhang — the wrong place to be at any Sokol Auditorium show. Still, later when I did the cursory walk around the room, the sound was just as bad everywhere including by the sound board. It’s a good thing Todd Fink has a voice that — when powered by the usual special effects — can cut right through the noise haze. I was told afterward by someone who has seen them at a number of different venues that Sokol really isn’t an exception — they apparently prefer their live sound to be unbelievably dense and throbbing, effectively blurring the lines that define their music.
As disappointing as the sound was, the visuals were absolutely stellar. This was easily the best light and projection show I’ve seen by any band anywhere. The Faint have finally crafted a suite of visual effects that actually enhances — rather than distracts from — the overall show. The trick is the use of a monochromatic projection system fed with by a series of live cameras mounted somewhere on stage. On a curtain, huge duo-tone black-and-white projections of their live performance towered over the band like static images from the film 1984. At first I thought it was a pre-recorded video, until I realized the actions matched what the band was doing on stage. It was an enormous shadow-dance close-up of each performer interlaced with prerecorded graphic images. Add an array of multicolored computer-controlled digital strobes and it was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever seen The Faint or anyone else do on stage. Dazzling.
The crushed dance-floor bounced for every classic Faint song, the fists rising in the air in unison. The songs from Faciinatiion, however, didn’t fair as well — but isn’t that always the way for bands who are out supporting new material? Well, maybe. Still, the new stuff just didn’t seem as rocket-fueled as the old stuff, and fell somewhat flat when crushed between the old standards. Suddenly the biggest Faint punching bag — Wet From Birth — sounded cutting edge compared to Faciinatiion. It’s going to make people stop and reconsider the album — maybe it wasn’t so bad after all (I never thought it was in the first place). So will we be saying the same thing about Faciinatiion in 2012 when the next Faint CD comes along? Hopefully I’ll still be alive to find out.
It turned out to be one of the longest Faint shows I’ve ever seen. As midnight rolled around the band finished its set and disappeared in back, presumably toweling off before the encore. I didn’t stick around to see if they played the only song off the new album that I was dying to hear live, ”The Geeks Were Right.” Instead, I started my long march up Martha Street back to my car.
I got there in time to drive to O’Leaver’s for last call. Closing out their set was The Lepers, who have switched from being a guitar-and-drum duo to a bass-and-drum duo, for a few numbers, anyway. The change was well-advised, and I’m looking forward to hearing how they pull it off on their new disc.
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