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Face to Face – A Fan’s Perspective

July 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Hitting up the Warped Tour (yuck) last week brought the total number of Face to Face performances that I’ve witnessed in person to eleven. As eleven seems like a perfect rock-and-roll number (see: This Is Spinal Tap), I thought it a perfect time to reflect on the changes I’ve seen. This comes strictly from memory…I’ve taken no notes over the years.

#1.
When: 26 June 1997
Where: Great Woods (later Tweeter Center, now Comcast Center), Mansfield, MA
Opening for No Doubt and Weezer
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals, guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Chad Yaro (guitar), Rob Kurth (drums)
The show that started it all. Face to Face was the solitary reason that I attended this show. We had lawn (general admission) seats, and I knew I was going to have to endure a few painful hours of teeny-bopper schlock, so I made sure that my party and I got to Mansfield early so that we could see Face to Face. The memory is a little fuzzy on this show (not because of mind-altering chemicals…solely because it was thirteen years ago)…I remember it being sunny out, and there (obviously) weren’t a hell of a lot of people there. “Disconnected” got a fair amount of love, though. Short and sweet. I also seem to remember Chad and/or Scott coming out on stage during the No Doubt set, but I could be remembering that wrong.

#2
When: Sometime in 1998
Where: Roxy, Boston, MA
Opening for the Reverend Horton Heat
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals, guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Chad Yaro (guitar), Jose Medeles (drums)
First f2f show in a club setting. Fast-paced. Went waaaay early (hit up Dunkin’ Donuts ahead of time, where my f2f partner-in-crime, Brad Golub, ordered a single Munchkin). Briefly met up with Scott outside the back of the venue before the show, and again after the band played. I remember him saying that they were going to get tattoos with Dicky from the Bosstones afterwards…this was sort of a big deal because tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts at the time. Also…I miss the Roxy. That was a great venue.

#3
When: 02 July 1999
Where: Middle East – Upstairs, Cambridge, MA
With: Drexel, No Motiv
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals, guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Chad Yaro (guitar), Pete Parada (drums)
On the short list of best shows I’ve ever been to. Upstairs at the Middle East is small (capacity is +/- 200), and it was jammed on this hot, sweaty night. The crowd was dynamite during songs from the first few albums, though they got a little “still” during the Ignorance Is Bliss stuff – which is bizarre because it is all dynamite and translates brilliantly live. I remember this show being so hot that I had to A)sit on the stage to push crowd surfers off the band and B)head into the hallway for a minute to catch my breath and grab water. Also, discovered the now-defunct No Motiv for the first time. They were great. Too bad they were so short-lived as a band.
Also on this night, hung out with the fellas outside and, in the process, stumbled into a copy of “Standards & Practices,” a cover album the band put out on Lady Luck/Vagrant in 1999. As we were hanging, there were a few *ahem* interesting characters leaving Goth/BDSM night at the now-shuttered Manray club across the street…leading a certain member of the band to inquire if Manray was the best place in town to get whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails. In jest, I think??

#4
When: Late fall 2000
Where: Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, RI
With: Saves the Day, Gob, Chronic Future
Lineup: Trever Keith (guitar, vocals), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
First time I saw the band as a three-piece (Yaro left after the recording of 2000’s Reactionary), and it was like they never missed a beat. I really liked this lineup. Very no-frills, very stripped down, and very “punk,” for lack of a better word. I think Trever, Scott and Pete really jelled, and this show was certainly no exception. Reactionary was a return to their pre-Ignorance “punk” sound, with nary an IIB song in sight. While I dislike that they stopped playing IIB material, I certainly get it…especially then. Too soon. Tight, tight show though. I believe they played “1000x” and “Bikeage,” both requested by my buddy, Brad, and rarely played for quite a while unless he was there.

#5
When: Late fall 2000 (2/3 days after aforementioned Providence show)
Where: Student Union Ballroom, UMass – Amherst
With: Gob, The Amazing Crowns.
Lineup: Trever Keith (guitar, vocals), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
The last day of the fall 2000 tour was memorable for a few reasons. First off, it should be pointed out that Pearl Jam played this same venue in both 1991 and 1992, both times supported by indie-rock super group Eleven. That was all I knew about the Student Union Ballroom going in…all I can say in hindsight is that those shows must have been epic.
On to f2f. I can recall the crowd being good, but not great. I suppose it is worth noting that Rusted Root was playing a different venue at UMass that night…I’m guessing that was more of a “ZooMass” crowd. Brad and I each carried a guitar case into the venue…we walked in with the fellas. Show was uneventful (unlike a previous Amazing Crowns show I saw in which the lead singer kicked a hole in the wall and got in a fight with the head bouncer). After the show was a little different. Due to the fact that it was probably Brad’s 17th Face to Face show (many of those were crammed into 1999 and 2000), Scott gave him his belt and Converse All-Stars (the latter autographed, of course). Arguably one of the coolest things ever. Also, I got a f2f pick. Not quite the same, but then I was trailing Brad by a dozen shows, so it makes sense. The stories made the ride back to Dorchester fly by (well…that and Brad’s driving!!).

#6
When: 11 February 2001
Where: Avalon Ballroom, Boston, MA
With: H2O, Snapcase, Dillinger Escape Plan
Lineup: Trever Keith (guitar, vocals), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
The real story with this show actually occurred a few hours before the show. Through an unplanned (I swear) twist of fate, we ended up a few tables away from the fellas in the band at Boston Beer Works prior to the show. Brad and I flagged the waitress down and told her to add the band’s appetizers to our order and take it off theirs…as a “thank you” for their years of generosity toward us. Then, we left. Never told them about it, though I think I have mentioned it in passing to Scott once in the years since then.
Also, I may have this wrong, but I believe it was on the street before this gig that Scott mentioned that he, his brother, Chris, and Trever had purchased baritone guitars and were doing a side project with Josh Freese on drums and Chad Blinman “doing what he does” and that Vagrant would probably put it out and that it would be called Viva Death…a dichotomous name in the same ilk as Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. Now, on to the show…
Admittedly, I’m not a very big fan of hardcore music. As such, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the lineup of openers (though I’ve developed a little bit of an affinity for DEP in more recent years). That said, this is one of the only times that I actually brought someone to a Face to Face show, and he was a fan of hardcore, so I guess it was fun for him. F2F headlined, and the crowd was certainly jacked up for this one given the openers however, so I remember it as being a very intense show. Seemed like any love that may have been lost from the “old school” fans when thy released IIB was back with a vengeance.

#7
When: 13 April 2002
Where: Virgin Mega Store, Boston, Ma
In-store performance and signing.
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals/guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
I know, it is a bit of a stretch to include this in my list of shows, but I’m still counting it. To me, it was memorable because it was intimate, and it was my first real “face to face” gig without Brad since 1997. They only played a few songs, many by request (none of which were mine) and then signed posters from the new album. Somehow, I missed Trever and Pete, so only Scott signed mine. In hindsight, despite seeing him in seven show in a three-ish year span, I never said more than “Hey, what’s up” to Pete. Always seemed like a cool cat…maybe just a little too “drummery” to be all that chatty with the fans. Although, he actually may have been the one that gave me the copy of Standards & Practices a few years prior.

#8
When: 13 April 2002
Where: Axis Nightclub
With: Midtown, Movielife, Thrice
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals/guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
Ran into Scott after the Virgin gig, on the way back to Lansdowne Street. I was about to get in line to buy tickets, but he called me over to the bus and gave us (my wife and I) tour passes with the “I’m Cool” box checked off. I always thought that was awesome…still have that hanging with the aforementioned poster. The show itself was about as expected. Didn’t care much for the openers…not good or bad, they just existed. I think we may have missed Thrice, actually. The f2f set was standard 75-90 minutes total of straight-forward punk rock. The band sounded tight as ever. Again, this three-piece lineup really jelled nicely (to my untrained ears, anyway). Obviously there was a certain depth in the sound missing without the extra guitar, but the songs came across as more raw this way…sounded like the way they were meant to be played (although this is probably due more to the fact that they weren’t being bogged down by Rob on drums anymore, and that Pete was metronome-steady). Bought a Face to Face Dickies jacket at the gig, and the Mrs bought a matching sweatshirt, which prompted Scott (after the show) to say “Nice…you got yourself a hoodie” to her when we caught up on the street. This quote has always stuck with my wife and I separately, for some bizarre reason. I still say it every time she wears it!

#9
When: 27 September 2002
Where: Parking lot, Bayside Expo Center, Boston, MA
With: Unwritten Law (Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dropkick Murphys played the following day).
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals/guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Pete Parada (drums)
This was part of the Molson Snow Jam tour, and was the most bittersweet of all of the Face to Face shows I’ve attended. I was probably most looking forward to this gig in order to catch up with Trever and Scott to chat about the aforementioned Viva Death album that had just been put out three days prior. Also, Natalia was living in Dorchester at the time, so this show was quite literally right next to her apartment, and it took place a the site of my graduation from UMass a year prior. It was the first show together for Natalia and I since we got engaged, and it was a year-and-a-day before we were due to get married. Seemed like the stars were aligning for a memorable show.
Turned out it was memorable for the wrong reasons. First off, never got to meet up with the fellas (though Scott gave me his sweaty towel from the stage…thanks???) as they poured into a cab within minutes of leaving the stage. Second…this would be my last Face to Face show for what I thought would be ever. They announced their break-up less than a year later, and played a series of “goodbye” shows that somehow skipped Boston (aside from a stop on the Warped Tour…but that doesn’t count). Didn’t seem a fitting way to end what had been a truly great ride.

Fast forward a full seven years (though in the interim, I was privileged to see Trever in a solo gig at the Middle East Upstairs, site of the legendary show on the IIB tour, and was privileged to meet Blinman for the first time, though I was admittedly awkward – no sleep due to a three-month-old is what I blame it on!).

#10
When: 18 September 2010
Where: House of Blues, Boston, MA
With: Pegboy, Polar Bear Club
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals/guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Chad Yaro (guitar)
Face to Face’s triumphant return to Boston, at a new venue on an old site; for those not from around here, House of Blues is located on Lansdowne Street in Boston and occupies the space that used to be both Avalon and Axis. This was a great day from start to finish. Got to Boston early, found $6 parking (in Boston…seriously!), watched sound check from the sidewalk, had dinner at Beer Works, met up with some new/old friends (Lara and Melissa) for the first time over beers at the House of Blues, long chat with Scott before the show (also at HOB).
Though, none of that has to do with the show itself. Missed Polar Bear Club entirely, but Pegboy was rad (especially because Larry is so out of shape). Face to Face was dynamite from soup to nuts. I guess you never know what to expect after such a lengthy hiatus and with a new drummer, but honestly it felt like that time off amounted to about a week. Trever’s voice was every bit as strong as it had been a decade ago, and still serves as (to me) the greatest voice in punk rock (at least since Joe Strummer). I really thought I’d miss Pete, but Danny is a home run. He is machine-gun fast, and he and Scott seem to have real great chemistry holding down the rhythm section, with is quintessential to any great band and allowing the guitars and the vocals to take chances.
Unexpected treat was hearing music from IIB. I think enough time has passed to allow some of that stuff to creep back into their sets, especially at headlining gigs such as this one. Crowd seemed real solid from where I stood. Admittedly (I say that a lot…) I was a little unsure of what to expect from the crowd, given A)the length of their hiatus and B)the size of the venue. It may not have been quite sold out, but an uneducated guess says it was at least 85% occupied and the crowd was quite involved in the show, sing-alongs and all. This show left me feeling very, very positive about the future of the band and confirmed that the reunion wasn’t just to play a couple of shows for nostalgia’s sake…the urgency and the relevancy are still there and should carry the band rather far going forward.

#11
When: 11 July 2010
Where: Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT
With: The Bouncing Souls, Alkaline Trio, and a bunch of fancy 14-year olds (The Warped Tour)
Lineup: Trever Keith (vocals/guitar), Scott Shiflett (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Dennis Hill (guitar)
By no means was this a typical Face to Face show. Many of those in attendance (and many of the other bands on the bill) would have fit right in at my first f2f show with No Doubt thirteen year prior…except they would have been two years old at the time…and who brings a two-year-old to a rock show??
Oh wait…I do! Yes, this was Morgan’s triumphant debut at a punk rock show. Thanks to Scott, we pretty much had VIP access. Morgan was a big hit at an otherwise lackluster show (not due to the band’s performance…just due to the setting and the crowd), and people from that band on down could not have been more accommodating. The set itself was short (for Warped Tour purposes) but very sweet, featuring what have become standards at this point (“Disconnected,” “Pastel,” “Bill of Goods” without the normally requisite singalong), and a new song that is already stuck in my head (“Should Anything Go Wrong”) from the recently-announced, forthcoming album “Laugh Now, Laugh Later.” While this show will certainly fail to crack the band’s internal list of “best shows ever,” for a lot of personal reasons this was definitely one of my favorite. Being able to share something that I’ve been so passionate about for so long with my own kid is a pretty amazing experience…even though she is only 2.5 years old, I think she “gets it.” Obviously Scott was a gracious host, but everyone affiliated with the show (Trever, Danny, Dennis, the Australian (?) tour manager whose name I missed) was great. I can imagine it must be weird to have a small family, including a pre-schooler, invade your tour bus on a ‘punk rock’ tour in a random town, but they really made us feel right at home (Morgan still talks about Dennis showing him pictures of his three-year-old son, and about Danny’s tattoos). One of these days Trever will remember who I am without referencing Brad’s name…although now it may be because of Morgan!

In summary, it has been a pretty awesome ride with this band for more than a decade. Face to Face’s music (and Trever’s lyrics specifically) have always resonated with me in a way that no other band (aside from Pearl Jam, natch) has been able to. I am certain that this would still be the case had I never actually met or spent any time with them over the years. There is something about the honesty in Trever’s voice and lyrics and the way that the music provides perfect symmetry to convey the message is (to me) unparalleled. I hope that this doesn’t come across as an epitaph, because it is certainly not. As I stated in the reviews of the last two shows, the urgency and the purpose that the band seems to be playing with now bode well for the future. Not bad for a band with nearly twenty years under its belt. Thanks, fellas!

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Viva Death – Curse the Darkness

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

As always, please feel free to comment down below.

June 2010 marked the long-awaited release of Viva Death’s Curse the Darkness. In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m a charter member of the Death Squad, so this review is not totally unbiased. That said, I think I can still be fair and objective.

I’ve got to say that this was probably the album I was anticipating most this year (aside from maybe the new Face to Face album), in part due to the fact that it has existed in raw form for almost two years before it saw the light of day. Recorded in 2008 in California, Curse the Darkness marks a departure from the overlying theme of the first two VD albums, 2002’s self-titled release and 2006’s One Percent Panic. Gone are Josh Freese’s drums, the dueling baritone guitars of Trever Keith (Face to Face) and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters, Jackson United, Me First…this is a long list…), and Keith’s unmistakable vocal stylings. That sounds on the surface like an awful lot to remove, but Viva Death has always been the brainchild of Scott Shiflett (Face to Face), and Curse the Darkness is the ultimate in one-man musical expression. It finds Shiflett aided only by guitars (the baritone-only rule of the last two VD albums has been cast aside), bass guitars, drums, and his right-hand man, Chad Blinman (he of the incredibly heavy [literally] Eye Socket studio) who continues to pull brilliant “keyboards, samples and other weirdness” out of the stratosphere.

Here’s a track-by-track rundown…

1. The Life You Save (May Be Your Own). One of the more “Viva Death-y” songs on the album, TLYS features the trademark baritone sound, which has always reminded me of surf music as played by zombies…or the soundtrack to a movie about surfing zombies…or something like that. Hypnotic, plodding guitar riff. Double time hi-hats. Shiflett kicking the album off very appropriately by asking the listener to “Come away, come away, come with me.” This album is certainly a ride, and this is a brilliant way to start that journey. And then, all of a sudden, the 1:41 mark comes up and, what’s this, a tasty, metalicious guitar solo, complete with dive bomb sounds that would wake Eddie Van Halen from whatever morphine-induced fog he’s been in for the last twenty years?!?!? Yeah, this album is going to be different.

2. Impact. “Now what’s wrong with having a little fun?” is the question that is posed to the listener at the :11 mark, just prior to the song taking off. Very straight-forward, aggressive track through the verses. Pre-chorus sounds almost like a car crash (that’s a good thing), then the chorus gets angular and echoy and trippy…”I can’t see anything at all/I can’t hear anything at all/I can’t feel anything at all” is the line from the album that I find getting stuck in my head most.

3. Bullets Under Mind Control. More zombie-surfer guitar with very echoy vocals layered over double-time, marchy drums. I eat this stuff up. Another trademark song (not unlike White Car or Desire Us A Flood in that sense). “Don’t say something that you might regret/Keep bullets under mind control” is advice we could all probably heed a little more than we do now. That one sticks in the head too.

4. Love Lust Trust. The album’s first real left turn. One of the two songs featuring anyone other than Shiflett or Blinman, this one center’s on noted tabla player Satnam Singh Ramgotra (Beck, Sting, etc). More echoy vocals, with the occasional weird keyboard fill. “Love, lust, trust” is repeated in purposely monotone, hypnotic style that makes this song come across as very futuristic and tribal at the same time.

5. Everything’s Tic-Toc. Sort of a punch in the face beginning at the immediate end of Love Lust Trust. Airy harmonic guitar gives way to big arena rock riff for the chorus, and the two battle for supremacy for the rest of the song…until the outro which is very spacey and features a cleaned up, Zeppelin-ish riff over some some of the stranger samples that Blinman has pulled out of his bag of tricks. “You will get a job…you will be working” comes across very hauntingly.

6. Villain. Villain finds Shiflett playing “the role of villain, direct from 1957,” prompting legions of Death Squaders to Google “what happened in 1957?”. 1957, it seems, did have its share of villains. Cold war escalating? Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his cousin? Little Rock Nine? The Dodgers and Giants leaving New York for greener pastures in California? Probably the most straight-forward rock song of the album.

7. Freeze. Another song that certainly fits the VD mold. Up-tempo, riff heavy verse. I dig the layered acoustic over the chorus, which includes a certain vein of optimism (“If this is the life, I’m dead”) that I appreciate =^) Around 2:10 the song changes…starting with another scorching guitar solo, this one longer than on TLYS. Third verse is more uptempo, and the way the vocals are layered lends an almost choral sound. Two minute-or-so outro features a lot of guitar soloing that is sadly disappearing in most rock music, and has been for years. It also gives fans of Shiflett’s work in Face To Face a chance to see just how talented and multi-faceted a musician he really is. Gets very trippy and atmospheric again at the end…

8. Talking Backwards. Brilliantly placed “You are now prepared for the next step of your indoctrination…which whill be most difficult” from Blinman’s extensive sound clip collection kicks off the album’s second real left turn. Very fast, tribal sounding drums serve as the background for a plodding march of a guitar riff and Shiflett’s almost whispery baritone vocals for the duration of the song, met during the chorus by the inimitable Monica Richards (Faith and the Muse). The differences in vocal stylings make the song very dynamic, if not for the faint of heart.

9. Out of Reach. This song sounds like it could have been either a Face to Face outtake or drawn from recording sessions for the last Jackson United album. Straight-forward rocker. Layered acoustic over the electric parts. More great, non-baritone guitar work. I quite like this song. Another extended outro that becomes lighter and airier as it progresses.

10. In Search Of Space Boy. Another big sounding song that really epitomizes the Viva Death sound. Layered baritone guitars, layered echoy vocals during the verses, riff heavy chorus. Keeps building and building as it goes. This song would fill up an arena amazingly live…if only…

11. It’s Like This. Very trippy. Swirling (backwards??) guitars that at times remind me of Pearl Jam’s MFC. Airy layered vocals. I love the line “no one can beat a drum so loud that you can’t hear your own heart beat.”

12. Wisdom. This may be my favorite song on the album. I love the double-time feel of the main guitar riff as it mirrors the drum track. Lyrics present as very “bad religion,” anti-Fundamentalist, anti-establishment (a running theme through much of the VD catalog). Great song.

13. Crutch. Interesting way to end the album. Atmospheric, acoustic ballad, but doesn’t come across as sappy or pretentious like a lot of hard rock acts that try to do the acoustic thing. Maybe because the album (and the VD catalog in general) takes enough side roads that it doesn’t feel unnatural like this. Interesting final line…”If all I did was lame/ Leaving here, I’ll take the blame.” Hopefully not Shiflett looking back negatively on the VD project, which has probably now seen its last incarnation.

Many long-awaited albums fail to live up to their expectations. This is not one of those albums. I’m glad Scott forged ahead and actually put the album out, albeit non-traditionally (instructions on where to obtain it are available at http://www.vivadeath.com – preferred site is Bandcamp). It is also a little bittersweet, knowing that this, in all likelihood, is the last VD album and doubly bittersweet knowing that none of it will ever be played live. A shame really, because this album especially is “big” enough to fill most any venue. At different times post-industrial and post-punk but with a sound that is a logical progression from 1970s hard rock, Curse The Darkness easily found its way onto the short list of my favorite albums of 2010. Stellar jobs, Scott and Chad.

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