Th’ Faith Healers
PA’s Lounge, Somerville
March 22, 2006
I don’t remember where I was when I first heard the hypnotic chaos of th’ Faith Healers. (Don’t ask about the ‘e’ if you know what’s good for you —it got traded early on to either thee Hypnotics or the Headcoatees, we’re not sure which.) But I’ve rarely fallen so hard or so utterly for a band after only one song. It was that immediate, as simple as singer Roxanne Stephen intoning, “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love.”
Repetition is one of the key ingredients of rock n’roll. Ask anyone from Gertrude Stein to Mark E Smith and they’ll tell you they dig it. Well, th’ Faith Healers honed repetition to a fine science. Over the course of four years, singles too numerous to mention, and two fantastic albums, the band kicked up a righteous racket —a furious, expressionistic squall. Their songs were built around monumental rhythmic codas, courtesy of the peerless rhythm section of drummer Joe Dilworth and bassist Ben Hopkins. Against this arresting backdrop, Tom Cullinan’s lead guitar held its own with a surprising amount delicacy, going into manic overdrive when need be but turning quiet and ringing when you least expected it.
I don’t know that I could tell you what they were “about” any more than I could explain why their gleeful, blistering brand of organic motorik stomp—a style that melded a kind-of angular, oddly articulate grunge to the clean, crisp rhythmic mantras of Krautrock— remains so compelling, more than ten years after their untimely breakup. Part of it was due to the fact that the band never once took itself too seriously. But credit also to the manic, charismatic energy of singer Roxanne Stephen, whose vocals could switchback from sweet and delicate to full-on shriek and back again.
I think my poor battered eardrums have only just now recovered from seeing th’ Healers, Band of Susans, and God Is My Co-Pilot all on one night, way back when. Which could only mean one thing: th’ Healers have reformed just in time.
I’m a little bit surprised to hear they’re playing at PA’s Lounge, way out in outer Somerville, rather than the more-expected Middle East (where they played their last time through Boston, a little more than ten years ago). The venue is a little hard to find and by the time we get there openers Bright are just finishing their set.
Luckily the band of the hour doesn’t make us wait too long. Once they start playing —ripping right into “This Time” with little fanfare— it’s like they’re picking right up where they left off, with the ineffable chemistry in place. Here’s where my critical brain shuts off, ‘cause I spend the rest of the breathless set grinning stupidly from ear to ear, screaming along to every word. And when I look around, I see everyone else is doing pretty much the same thing.
They play two sets (smoke break in the middle there). And, okay, I’m a little disappointed that they don’t play “Sparklingly Chime” (sigh) but they play “Heart Fog” (a joyful, poignant incantation) and their cover of Can’s “Mother Sky” (from whence record label Too Pure got its name & my first introduction to Can) so I can’t complain too much. It’s as sloppy and gleefully shambolic a set as you might expect (some wag in the front row yells out, “You sound like you haven’t played together in years!” after they flub a song), but their enthusiasm more than makes up for it. (And, really, you don’t go to a Faith Healers show looking for crisp, curt professionalism —the joy of their music is in its inherently exuberant, messy nature.)
Really, few things make me happier than the music of this band and seeing them again is even better than I thought it would be. I tell that to Tom afterwards and he looks a bit sheepish. Still tired from what must have been a whirlwind at SXSW, he remarks that there were enough British accents wandering the streets of Austin that, in his quasi-jetlagged state, it almost felt like home. (The sweltering, parched-earth, overrun-by-hipsters version of home?) I get the feeling he’d be just as happy to be back in London and I wonder if this is the last, all-too-brief re-appearance of th’ Healers. If so, I’m thankful I got to witness it.
Th’ Faith Healers Peel Sessions is out now on BaDaBing! Better yet, go see ‘em next week in NYC or Philly:
March 27th: Brooklyn, NY, Northsix
March 29th: New York, NY, Mercury Lounge
March 30th: Philadelphia, PA – The Khyber (w/The Nethers, The War On Drugs)
April 20th: London, England – 93 Feet East
For some fun reminiscing about the Sausage Machine club (where th’ Healers got their start), go here.Yes, I still have my membership card! For biographical background, visit Horst’s Faith Healers page, which has just about everything you’d want to know about the band and then some!
th’ Faith Healers, “Everything, All at Once, Forever (Dub Edit)” [right-click-save-as, s’il vous plaît]