For a band that introduced itself in 1985 with the chomping, chanting, attitude-heavy anti-anthem "We Care a Lot," Faith No More doesn't have much attitude left.
At least it didn't show much in a Hollywood Palladium concert Friday, where reaction tended to split between admiration and respect for the way the band remains stubbornly uncategorizable, and disappointment and impatience that it hasn't expanded on the artistic and commercial momentum of 1990's underground hit "Epic."
Everything coalesced in that mighty, taunting rap-metal-pop hybrid, and in its wake the San Francisco quintet appeared positioned to become a key player at a time when new sounds and new faces were realigning a wide-open rock landscape. An opening spot on part of last summer's big Guns N' Roses/Metallica tour seemed like an anointing as a budding big deal.
But last year's album "Angel Dust" recast the band as challenging genre-hoppers in which they perversely declined to assume the mantle of cultural beacons. Predictably, sales declined, and Friday's Palladium booking was a step down in drawing power from FNM's previous L.A. engagement, at the Universal Amphitheatre.
The show followed the "Angel Dust" approach, concentrating on tightly, powerfully played slices of what amounts to alternate-wing progressive rock. The punk component has been nearly eliminated, its slamming cadences replaced by moody, keyboard-thickened ballads and driving rockers full of tricky changes and rhythms.
It's the kind of thing that a Zappa of this generation might be doing, but he'd be more entertaining about it. Singer Mike Patton, whose taut warble was hard to hear, wasn't especially commanding or compelling as a stage figure.
There were some jolts of satire (they hit the stage doing calisthenics to a thumping disco soundtrack) and irony (a melodramatic version of the Commodores' wimpy '70s ballad "Easy"), and Faith No More's often scathingly funny expressions of fragmentation under modern pressures found appropriate musical form periodically.
But the band appears ready to make the crucial choice between noodling away into a cult corner and refocusing on the kind of music that insists on its essentialness.
Second-billed Babes in Toyland were moving in the opposite direction Friday, transforming their harsh, assaultive songs into something closer to power-riff rock anthems. Upgraded accessibility isn't compromise for the Minneapolis female trio, whose Kat Bjelland was as unrestrained as ever in her gut-wrenching vocal eruptions.