Last night at the Cheyenne Saloon took me back about 13 years. It was partially because the strip-mall venue reminds me of the old Boston Bar and Grill, the local music epicenter back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the flashbacks were mostly brought on by the music being played, by one guy: Trever Keith, singer/guitarist of SoCal punk act Face to Face, playing his band's 1999 album Ignorance is Bliss (almost) in full.
Back when that record came out, I was in the end run of coming to terms with my sexuality, and during those reflective, soul-searching moments, I'd choose to listen to exactly who you'd expect an alternative rock-loving, diva pop-hating gay dude to be cranking on his stereo: Morrissey, The Smiths, David Bowie, R.E.M., Placebo. I reviewed Ignorance is Bliss as a young staff writer for CityLife only because I was familiar with Face to Face from high school. But after that assignment, I found myself playing the album over and over again. The songs looped inside my head when I wasn't listening to them. And the words, while hardly queer-themed, paralleled what was going on in my life enough to resonate deeply with me. I might've thought Wilco, Moby and The Flaming Lips made better records that year, but they didn't speak to me — at least not like Ignorance did.
However, Face to Face didn't play Las Vegas on its promotional tour for that album. And when it finally did come to town, in support of 2000's Reactionary, it completely ignored Ignorance — as it did on every tour thereafter. Ignorance sounds very little like the SoCal punk of the other FTF records. While more melodic and thoughtful than the rest of the FTF catalog, it's also slower, more intricately structured, more liberal on the chords, and proudly boasting instrumental segments usually considered anathema to punk songs. The line for years has been the band can't work the Ignorance material into an otherwise fast-paced punk show required by its discography and preferred by its fanbase. But the elephant in the room was the sheer hatred many FTF devotees had for the untraditional record, surely stinging Keith and his bandmates.
Fast forward 13 years, and Ignorance has become to Face to Face what Pinkerton is to Weezer: the slow-cooked aberration to which most of its fanbase has not only come around, but become quite attached. When Keith casually asked his band's Facebook page followers if they'd like to see an acoustic Ignorance show, the fans responded so positively that Keith and his bassist/vocalist bandmate Scott Shiflett booked a full tour. What a turnaround. What vindication for Keith, who now openly declares Ignorance his favorite among all his records. And what a opportunity for this homo to hear songs that meant something to him during a pivotal time in his life.
Unfortunately, Keith came alone to Las Vegas yesterday, telling a crowd of about 100 that Shiflett missed his flight. He made up for the lost guitar and harmonies, though, with an impassioned solo reading of the most of the album. Keith nailed a hat-trick of songs early in the record: "Burden" (which received the loudest applause of the Ignorance songs), "Everyone Hates a Know It All" and "Heart of Hearts," the latter of which was accidentally played out of order. He even braved thicker compositions like the hyperactive "I Know What You Are," filling in Shiflett's guitar and voice with some performance gusto. But toward the end, that initial willingness to maybe take on the whole record faltered; after he ended his Ignorance set with the ballad "Lost," he'd only played 10 of the 13 tracks, citing how he couldn't do the remaining three proper justice without the other guitarist. From there, he played three Face to Face chestnuts, which he claimed was a rarity for the tour (and excited the more fairweather fans at the bar), and called it a night. Some fans stayed to chat up Keith. Others left the bar looking a little disappointed.
I might've been, too, except that Keith sounded great, especially vocally, and the songs he omitted are my least favorite on the record. Frankly speaking, I knew I wouldn't hear those songs the same way I did back in 1999, both musically or emotionally. But Keith's performance was enough to let me revisit a period for which I have a little nostalgia, while still allowing me to concentrate on the novelty of the alternative arrangements the show offered — as well as the enthusiasm and evocation the singer projected. For every time I remembered how much the songs meant to me, he reminded me that they mean an awful lot to him, too.