Faith No More, Brixton Academy, London

Just like they've never been gone

It is unlikely there will have been many more bizarre opening songs in the history of live music. Faith No More, legendary funk-metallers back together for the first time in over a decade, in front of a full Brixton Academy packed full of patient fans who have waited so long for this moment, decide to start with ... "Reunited" by Peaches and Herb.

Most bands wouldn't choose to cover the soul duo's aptly named crooner, but then Faith No More are not most bands. Known for their unpredictability and myriad styles, the fact that tonight the whole group – save drummer Mike Bordin – have come dressed in suave pastel suits makes it an even more surreal moment, not least because they play it virtually straight, save Mike Patton's tongue-in-cheek boy-band moves.

The frontman has had no shortage of side-projects to keep him busy since the Californian group's last gig in 1998, and although bands such as Mr Bungle and Tomahawk haven't been without their admirers, nothing has come close to matching Faith No More's popularity.

Those lucky enough to be inside the south London venue are ready to get down to the serious business once the surprise opener is over, and so is Patton as he grasps a loud-hailer, launching into "The Real Thing", the title track of their breakthrough album. The song remains a tour de force, and is followed by "From Out of Nowhere", which sees a screaming Patton hurling himself towards the audience. It's a crowd-pleasing start, but they resist the temptation to stick to the greatest hits throughout the two-hour set. This isn't to everyone's taste – during some of the more experimental songs, parts of the crowd appear to be more interested in chatting to their neighbours.

Still, when they crank up the visceral thrills then no one is distracted. The close of "Be Aggressive", for example that sees the crowd joining in the chant of "Go! Fight!", or Billy Gould's relentless bass on "Surprise! You're Dead!" Predictably, the biggest cheer comes for "Epic", during which the crowd is bathed in light. It may be partially to blame for nu-metal, but it remains a massive song.

Also ensuring that any inattentive audience members are quickly recaptured is Patton himself. An incredibly versatile singer, he can switch from crooning to screaming in a second. With his slicked-back hair and manic glare making him look like Christian Bale in American Psycho, the unstable persona is something that he clearly embraces. At one point he puts the microphone in his mouth and leans back whie cackling manically like a cartoon villain.

We get two more covers, both of which are a bit more familiar to Faith No More fans – the Commodores' "Easy" and, in the second and final encore, "I Started a Joke" by the Bee Gees. They even find the time to slip in the Chariots of Fire theme tune, before sliding into "Stripsearch".

"Pristina" finishes off a night that encapsulates the appeal of Faith No More – unpredictable and experimental, but with a well-developed pop sensibility and taste for the dramatic. Time will tell whether a new album will make it more than a nostalgia trip, but either way it is good to have them back.