The key to Filter, then as in now, is that Patrick remains a consummate frontman, and that the change in his lifestyle that bridges the eras -- i.e., he's sober now -- hasn't filed down any of his edges or muted his angst.
"It's been six years, New York!" bellowed Filter frontman Richard Patrick, ambling onto the Mercury Lounge stage as if he'd spent years in hiding, before lighting into an appropriate "Welcome to the Fold". While Filter might not be the revived rock act with the most headlines -- there's a lot of competition in that category from just about every quarter right now -- it's tough to deny its still-healthy cache. Really, it's a perfect time to re-enter: the band's been gone just long enough to have a few twitters of nostalgia, but not long enough to significantly age their core fans. And having lost none of the industrial-flavored alt-rock sound that's not only more popular among indie rockers than it was then, Filter also does it better than any of the groups that might qualify as current style lump-ins. Even if you can't think of a better reason for a Filter resurgence in 2008, it definitely seems like a good idea. The 200-capacity Mercury Lounge gig wasn't exactly the best litmus test for Filter's market sustenance: a room full of industry types and their plus-ones -- an early-evening, insider-y event where it was still light out when the band went on -- and Patrick seemed to feel it, acutely, as the most energetic person in the room trying to light the fire. But the key to Filter, then as in now, is that Patrick remains a consummate frontman, and that the change in his lifestyle that bridges the eras -- i.e., he's sober now -- hasn't filed down any of his edges or muted his angst. As a performer, he still brims with the manic intensity that's part punk, part metal-nerd, and part over-caffeinated intellectual. In other words, each part tempers the others’ clichés, and he broods with just enough murk to be mysterious, yet is folksy enough to not be alienating. It's an interesting balance, and his energy at the Merc was furious: stoking the crowd, looking for things on the Lounge's ceiling to hang from (to no avail), hurling water into the front row, and projecting his wailing choruses as if attempting to hold the attention of a 20,000+ person arena. Why is this odd, wiry, arch-eyebrowed man so charismatic? Well, there's no one happier that Filter's back than he. The day after the show, he told me in conversation about how when touring with short-lived supergroup Army of Anyone, the DeLeo brothers would home in on how jacked up he'd become whenever they covered Filter songs. Luckily, Patrick's found bandmates who are just as interested in playing those songs. Sure, the other three-fourths of Filter are all new, but drummer Mika Fineo, bassist John Spiker, and especially guitarist Mitch Marlow -- who spent much of the evening punishing a turquoise Les Paul -- were locked in like they had every right to call their ensemble Filter. Marlow's guitar tones in particular reached out like tendrils -- lean riffs and uncluttered effects -- where a less-attuned guitarist might have made the sound blobby or squall-like. Any boob can mess around with an effects pedal, especially with music that requires so much crunching guitar, but to use it effectively makes it an instrument unto itself: dominant, but never too obtrusive to obscure the melodies. It's a technique that works all over Filter, from the restless push of "Hey Man, Nice Shot" and several of the new songs, to the woozy intros and codas of more mellow fare like "Take a Picture". Ah, yes, the new Filter album: Anthems for the Damned, a solid new effort recorded with a grab bag of excellent sidemen that makes no bones about its political bramble (look at those song titles, and the cover art boasting an upturned rifle). Certainly listenable -- and "Soldiers of Misfortune", one of several gritty cuts unveiled at Mercury, had a surfeit of genuine Patrick passion -- but it's the kind of album that anticipates something even more cohesive, heavier, and darker from this band a year or two down the line. "Soldiers", and other new-album cherry bombs like "The Take", came mixed in with variably noteworthy oddities like "(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do", the band's fuzzadelic, one-off collaboration with the Crystal Method that's aged pretty well, and "Jurassitol", from The Crow soundtrack, which hasn't. One of the biggest treats for the faithful was "Skinny", whose lilting vocals Patrick noted he could never properly acquit in unhealthier years. Its place as a calmer (metalheads would say "pussier") Filter anthem works because it's not as reliant on cathartic wailing as introspection and a few good hooks. As things wound toward a tidy conclusion after about an hour, Patrick seemed appreciative of his crowd, but more accepting-of than enthused-by. This was not a rumble-ready audience with hours to drink itself into shape, but a polite crowd ready to call it a Tuesday and get to bed early -- which is why it was so jolting to see a mosh pit suddenly convene at the front of the Lounge for the "Nice Shot" finale ("This is a rock show! Remember those?" Patrick had asked a half hour earlier.) The singer's eyes lit up watching the stragglers move the industry-ites out of the way and do a little knocking around, and his smile conveyed the same exhortation that he'd tried to ignite the show with an hour earlier: "Filter is back!" That moment in particular elevated the whole show from affirmation to exhilaration, and the feeling in the Mercury Lounge's front bar afterwards was a mix of relieved excitement and appreciation: it felt OK to admit it's good to have Filter back, without having to qualify anything.