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Faith No More are in no way a conventional metal band. Maybe they aren’t a metal band at all.

Their warped and thoroughly unconventional combination of funk bass lines, church organs, chugging guitars, Mike Patton’s theatrics and whatever else they can pile on top didn’t sound like anyone else in their 1990s heyday, and still doesn’t. They can certainly be heavy and menacing, but there’s an undercurrent of playfully dark humor and a thrilling unpredictability to the whole thing that allows them to defy categorization.

A similar sense of non-conformance applies to tourmates Refused, the resuscitated Swedish post-hardcore crew who’ve defied their own stone-faced declaration to never reunite by doing just that, then collaborating with pop producer Shellback for parts of their new record. Like most strange things Faith No More have tried over the years, it was a double bill that worked.

“Don’t you guys have something better to do?” Mike Patton asked of his audience after their shockingly forceful acapella run through the chorus of FNM’s 1992 single “Midlife Crisis” at Boston’s Blue Hills Band Pavilion on August 4th. It was a moment emblematic of whole set’s tone – call it lightheartedly confrontational. Patton, the vocalist and most forthright personality of the band, spent the duration of the show prowling the stage with an intense glare but was still quick to crack jokes between songs – or during them – and typically at the audience’s expense. But they adored him all the same, greeting each song with raised fists and shouted-along lyrics.

Faith No More are on the road in the U.S. for the second time this year, supporting their first new LP in 18 years, Sol Invictus. This trek finds them largely occupying venues twice the size of their spring tour; even if Madison Square Garden was a bit of a stretch, it’s undeniable that people are still quite fond of this band. Faith No More, in turn, give them something worthy of the enthusiasm.

They emerged in white linens, onto a stage draped in white sheets and ornamented with boxes of colorful plastic flowers. The whole setup was reminiscent of a funeral for someone weird enough to want Faith No More playing their memorial service. Kicking off with the title track from 1989’s The Real Thing, they burst out of the gate with a string of fan-favorites. Bassist Billy Gould and keyboardist Roddy Bottum poured their souls into their instruments with animated fervor, while Patton wrapped mic cords around his neck and stared down the crowd. His massive vocal range may be the band’s signature, but the whole thing wouldn’t come together nearly as well as it does without founding members Bottum, Gould and drummer Mike Bordin.

A run through “Be Aggressive,” with Bottum nailing the chorus’s cheerleader cadence, and “Everything’s Ruined” saw the band riding high on choice material from their early days, but the set didn’t lose momentum with the subsequent Sol Invictus cuts. Faith No More’s singular strangeness makes their new songs sound right at home along with their old; 18 years onward, they’ve stayed true to themselves.

After 17 songs, including the band’s infamously straight-faced cover of “Easy,” which featured the largest Commodores singalong I could ever personally hope to witness, Patton brought it all to a close with an unexpected leap off the stage and into the hands of his faithful. It was a fitting conclusion to a show that had seen him and the band toy with and occasionally mock them, always seeking to defy their expectations.

For their part, Refused also offered up a set that juxtaposed their beloved older songs with new material, though it probably worked best if you came into it knowing little about Freedom. The songs of the band’s post-reunion studio effort often come across overproduced and undercooked on record, but as a live band, Refused can sell just about anything. They’re absolutely unstoppable instrumentalists, playing with the kind of momentum that makes you want to rip the fixed plastic seats of a venue like the Pavilion straight out of the ground. And vocalist Dennis Lyxzén remains one of the best frontmen in punk or anywhere else. He’s a sharp-dressed blur on stage, with a piercing scream and dance moves like Jarvis Cocker.

Refused’s commitment to treating even an opening gig like it’s their own headlining slot – see Lyxzén descending into the crowd for “Rather Be Dead” and demanding the attention of any confused early arrivals who weren’t paying it yet – was also a large part of why this bill worked as well as it did. Though their styles rarely overlapped, both Faith No More and Refused put on shows that were equally difficult to take your eyes off of.

—Ben Stas

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Refused

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Faith No More

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