Faithless

[16 May 2007]

By Sam Frank

They may call themselves Faithless, but that doesn’t mean vocalist Maxi Jazz, DJ/keyboardist Sister Bliss, and producer Rollo Armstrong don’t have the power to instigate collective catharsis. Originally from the UK, Faithless has gained worldwide recognition as one of the finest live acts of our generation, in large part because of its members’ electrifying stage presence and Maxi Jazz’s spiritual, socio-political lyricism.

With five albums to show for a decade of magnetic songwriting, Faithless is not shy about presenting a wide range of emotion in its music: the group, joined by guest vocalist LSK and a traveling band, opened the show with the beat-driven “Sweep” (off 2004’s No Roots). The result? An infectious urge to jump while pumping one’s fist in the air spread across the two-story theater.

As Sister Bliss fed the crowd’s beat-heavy appetite behind a cubicle of triple-stacked keyboard/synthesizers, a soothing yellow light consumed the stage. When the beats per minute reached top velocity, Maxi Jazz, sporting a thin black leather jacket, appeared from out of the yellow mist, and fans met him with the roar of an enthusiastic congregation welcoming a holy man’s wisdom. The lights began to dim in sync with the tempo as Maxi stepped up to the microphone. Decibel levels reached what would be their lowest point of the evening as Maxi’s seminal words seeped from Webster Hall’s immense sound system: “I can’t get no sleep!” from the hit track “Insomnia” off 1995’s Reverence. The last syllable to exit Maxi’s mouth was joined by a tidal wave of beats, guitar riffs, drums sounds, and kaleidoscopic strobe effects that exploded into a tirade of audio/visual stimulation. 

After that influx of intensity, things settled down, and LSK (born Leigh Stephen Kenny) was invited on stage to sing a beautiful version of No Roots “In the End”. Backed by Sister Bliss’ angelic keyboarding, LSK’s voice, smooth and eloquent, gave the audience a euphoric breather that led into Maxi Jazz’s spoken-word deconstruction of the world’s sociological problems, titled “All Races”:

All races all colors all creeds
got the same needs, and ignorant leads
the pain feeds the flame
international shame on a global scale.

People live and in a hail
what’s that smell?
I ain’t talking about the poor but the rich
you can have everything you want and life can still be a bitch
which just goes to show that if you don’t let go of your ego
you’ll never know what peace really means.

The crowd’s vehement cheers after “All Races” were met by a repeated “thump” that reverberated throughout the entire auditorium. The heartbeat added layers of multi-frequency sounds that ultimately morphed into an epic version of Sunday 8PM’s seminal “God Is a DJ.” From there, the performers continued their spectacle with an intoxicating version of the controversial new song about the price of war, “Bombs” followed by the ethereal “Music Matters,” from 2006’s To All New Arrivals. The set closed as Maxi, illuminated by a white light that reflected off the surrounding haze, invited audience participation by raising his right index finger above his head in a call for the audience to form a single voice:  “We Come 1!” 

The hour-and-a-half show left spectators sweaty and short of breath, but not without a smile. It was as if everyone had just finished an aerobics class that not only rid the body of harmful toxins (which may or may not have been put in there before the show to enhance the experience), but also purified the soul. It was Aristotle who claimed that melodies of purification give mankind an innocent pleasure: Faithless may be their name, but they certainly seem to believe in that.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/faithless1/