The Refused – [Live]

Sunday, 29 July 2012

In 1998, The Shape of Punk to Come album arrived. Its architects, Refused, were a small punk band from Sweden who were basically unknown until then but, when the record landed, the impact (and mark it left) was phenomenal; in fact, it was the punk to come. Classic punk was fun and bouncy, hardcore was raw, fast and gravelly, Nineties punk was fast and technical or fun and bouncy, but Refused were different; they mixed elements of dark electronica with their growling and ferocious guitars and they looked like bad prep school boys with Dennis Lyxzén's mischievous dyed black Beatle haircut (which would catch on in popularity about four years later). Radio bands like Finger Eleven and Billy Talent would water down Refused’s music for the masses but, if you listen to alternative rock radio today, nearly everyone sounds like Refused in one way or another. They did it first though, and obviously the best. There was no one else like them when they appeared in the late Nineties and, just as soon as they were noticed, they quickly imploded, most likely never to return – until now. The reunion this year was a shock to most but welcomed with swinging fists and their two-night stay at the Sound Academy was packed with eager young fans waiting to witness what many had heard of, but few had ever seen.

Although set in a large venue, the bands tried to create an atmosphere on stage without it being too much of a rock show. Openers OFF! – the new punk supergroup who has reminded the newest generation that punk rock is more than just music to shop for skinny jeans to – played their asses off after quietly setting up their own guitars. OFF!’s brand of blistering thrash eliminates any bullshit layered on top and does its best to sum up every song in two minutes. Guitarist Dimitri Coats and bassist Steve McDonald – two veterans of the California garage punk scene – stayed planted on the left and right of the stage while Keith paced back and forth between them screaming his face off. Luckily Keith kept his lengthy stage banter to a minimum for this show, which kept their set to a half an hour and still afforded them enough time to play through most of the material from their self-titled full-length album and their First Four EPs.

Refused's stage was shrouded in a black vale until they appeared revealing a smartly dressed Lyxzén in a black suit; the rest of the band in sharp collared shirts as always. Lyxzén, the wiry noodle that he is, was convulsing with energy as soon as he screamed the first lyric of “Worms of the Senses/ Faculties of the Skull” the intro of which had been ringing for five minutes before the band took the stage. Refused bounced back and forth between their most famous work on Shape of Punk to Come with second and third songs “Refused Party Program” and “Liberation Frequency” followed by earlier works “Rather Be Dead” and “Coup Détat.” Lyxzén's sharp black shirt was drenched in sweat by mid-set and the crowd was both mesmerized by the energy as well as being pushed out of control by it – especially by the time “Circle Pit” was played. The band's energy levels were at an all time high three quarters of the way through their set and everyone was wondering the same thing: when would “New Noise” be played? Would it be at the end of their set or during the encore? The question was building in everyone’s mind; they were all waiting to leap in the air to the sound of Lyxzén yelling “can I scream?” During the first song of the encore, what most people had been waiting to see since the song first appeared in the underground finally happened. The crowd spun in frenzy, screaming along with blasts of fog shooting off the stage and Lyxzén now wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. This moment was magic – the kind of moment that punks who used to pore over magazines in their teen years imagined and hoped they'd get to experience for themselves someday – but seeing it in living, breathing, seething color was something else. The power was palpable and those who saw it would realize exactly how gratifying getting to see it play out was. It was intoxicating.

After a stellar opening set from OFF! and Refused turning in a show which presented the band just as their fans had hoped, those who witnessed it were able to leave feeling like they'd seen something classic. Refused have come full circle being the influential band of the late Nineties, and now reappearing to reaffirm their status in punk. Not that anyone forgot about their excellence, but sometimes you have to see the spectacle and hear the raw power to realize once again that someone invented a sound that is still incredible today.

OFF!/The Refused –
Sound Academy – Toronto, Ontario – 07/22/12



The Refused's 2012 tour continues. Click here for an updated listing of shows.

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