April 02, 2006

SXSW Report #33: Th' Faith Healers @ Blender Balcony

After Dungen's set, I walked across the street to see Th’ Faith Healers. They were the closest thing that England’s mid-‘90s shoegaze scene came to having a grunge band. Breathy co-ed vocals --- check! Guitars smothered in drone and distortion --- check! However, there was a goofiness and aggression present in Th’ Faith Healers’ music that My Bloody Valentine’s and Slowdive’s lacked. The riffs were often dirt-simple, the lyrics even more so. I was 13 years old when their final album Imaginary Friend was released, and I didn’t even find out about their music until I was in my 20s. Thus, like Gang of Four and Mission of Burma before them, th’ Faith Healers’ reunion was my window into a piece of musical history that I was too young to witness the first time around.

As soon as Tom Cullinan played the opening chord to “This Time,” my ears began to tingle. He only used one distortion pedal and one Orange amp, but his guitar managed to fill up the room. Singer Roxanne Stephen shook around the stage until her flowing red locks obscured both her face and the microphone. Drummer Joe Dilworth’s kick drum kept slipping further away from his foot, but he never lost control of the rhythm. At first, their set felt more like a public rehearsal than it did an actual gig. There were missed count-ins, and random giggling fits from telepathic inside jokes. Once the soundman found a way to keep Joe’s kick drum still (he tied one end of a chain to the drum and the other to the wall), Th’ Faith Healers gained focus and began to slay. I especially enjoyed “Reptile Smile,” during which Tom uses pick scrapes as melodic devices, and made one chord sound like four. The final song ended with the whole band leaning on the same chord for at least 10 minutes. Bassist Ben Hopkin turned his amplifier up so high that I couldn’t even hear the drums after a certain point! This made th’ Faith Healers the third loudest band I saw at this year’s SXSW.

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