Following Faith No More’s fizzle of a farewell in 1998, a reunion of any kind — let alone one that would see the funk-metal quintet mounting a full-scale amphitheater tour — seemed like wishful thinking. Even after the band reunited more than a decade later, they limited stateside shows to a tiny handful of major market events in 2010.
The ups and downs of Faith No More’s career create a trajectory unlike any of their contemporaries. After charismatic frontman Mike Patton, then barely 20 years old, joined the group for the 1989 platinum LP, “The Real Thing,” the mass appeal of the album’s single “Epic” put the Bay Area act into heavy rotation on MTV.
Poised to sell millions more, the band could have parlayed that success with “The Real Thing Two.” Instead, they followed the arena-ready “Real Thing” with the experimental metal of 1992’s “Angel Dust.” That album opens with an opus cribbed from Scientology personality tests (“Land of Sunshine”), features a song written on a sleep-deprived caffeine binge (“Caffeine”) and includes a sparse track with a muttering narrator riffing about life in the trailer park and suicide (“RV”), among other oddities.
Not surprisingly, “Angel Dust” was not the record that would make Faith No More fill arenas. Instead, they became stadium openers, most notably playing to the daytime crowd during the disastrous Guns ’n’ Roses and Metallica tour in 1992. They banged out two more records in the mid-1990s and maintained a diehard following as a theater-sized act, but called it a day in ’98 with seemingly nothing left to accomplish together.
The unlikelihood of Sunday night’s gig at the Merriweather Post Pavillion didn’t seem lost on the band or the black T-shirted crowd that filled a good portion of Columbia’s outdoor venue. Whatever personal and creative differences drove them apart for nearly a dozen years seem in the past; these days, Faith No More band members interact like high school chums reconnected. This form of interaction works perfectly for their current stage show, an all-white affair with floral arrangements fit for a summer wedding.
Bucking and pacing mid-stage, Patton anchored the show while bassist Billy Gould and keyboardist Roddy Bottum dug into each track with blissed-out energy to the singer’s right. Drummer Mike Bordin, whose white dreads match the band’s light tunic uniform, set the pace. Only guitarist Jon Hudson, a relatively late addition to the lineup following the 1993 departure of guitarist-turned-prize-farmer Jim Martin, seemed like a bit of an afterthought.
Touring behind their May comeback record “Sol Invictus,” Faith No More started Sunday night with a string of older tracks before delving into the new stuff. The set opened with a full, heavy take on “The Real Thing’s” title track. The live take encapsulated the soft-heavy dynamic that influenced many bands that followed.
Patton then brought out the megaphone for “Land of Sunshine,” opening up a pit in the general admissions area at the front of the stage. The crowd stayed on their toes for “Caffeine,” with Patton huffing through the breakdown of “Say something, huh, huh, huh, anything!” before exploding into his trademark vocal gymnastics.
“Evidence” slowed down the proceedings with a simmering groove, but Patton kept the audience awake by twerking for a laugh. Patton is as much of a crooner as he is a metal vocalist, and when he talked his way through a couple of tracks, he gave the evening the feel of an art-metal variety show.
The band burned off “Epic” mid-set. Afterward, Patton made a “Free Bird” reference and asked the crowd if they would mind moving forward, “I don’t know, 30 years?” The band then offered “Sunny Side Up,” the first “Sol Invictus” song of the night. Five of the 18 songs in the set came from the latest record, a testament to the band’s rebirth and a statement that while the fans were free to feel nostalgic, this was no nostalgia tour.
Faith No More has a knack for following up moshers like “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” with low-key material like a surprisingly faithful rendition of The Commodore’s “Easy.” The regular set ended with “Superhero,” as Patton fittingly traded vocals with himself on two microphones.
The second biggest surprise of the night occurred during the three-song encore, which included the live rarity “RV.” A geeked-out crowd provided backing vocals while Hudson laid out the tongue-in-cheek country riffs.
There were a ton of highlights and a few surprises during the band’s stop in Columbia. But undoubtedly the biggest surprise was that the show occurred in the first place. Perhaps the band will come back to the area for another round soon, or maybe it will disappear for another dozen years. Neither would shock at this point. After all of these years, the only thing to expect from Faith No More is the unexpected.