Fucked Up Presents David Comes to Life
(le) poisson rouge
Monday, November 14
Better than: That start-to-finish performance of Pocket Full of Kryptonite at Brooklyn Bowl last month.
It took all of about 40 minutes—or, considering the context, until the end of Side B—for Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham to barrel off the stage at (le) poisson rouge Monday night, weave through the tightly-packed, dangerously surging crowd, climb, sweaty and bare-chested, on top of the bar and proceed to tell a complicated joke about Madonna. The event, a start-to-finish performance of Fucked Up’s searing 80-minute rock opera David Comes to Life, had started ambitiously: the first four musicians to take the stage were wearing suits and carrying violins, and the venue’s typical rock show configuration had been abandoned in favor of a more intimate theater in the round. But the instant the melancholy overture ended, it was business as usual, with Abraham stripping off his shirt, high-fiving audience members and ricocheting across the stage like some kind of burly Tasmanian Devil. Surely, this is also how things go at the Met?
Fucked Up’s live shows have rightly become the stuff of legend, but in this case, the cheeriness was somewhat at odds with the text. David tells the story of a despondent blue-collar worker who, in the album’s opening moments, meets Veronica, an anarchist picketing the factory where he works. The two fall instantly in love.
But rather than progressing as a punk rock ode to the virtues of idealism and young love, David takes a darker turn. Veronica dies at the end of the second song, and the rest of the record is spent watching teenage optimism calcify into adult bitterness and cynicism. It’s probably no coincidence that the record’s protagonist works in a lightbulb factory: few things better symbolize the strange binary gap between life and death or hope and despair. All that separates them is a single trigger.
It’s grim stuff, but Fucked Up delivered it with gusto and velocity. Last night the riffs were piled heavy and thick, at times so loud that Abraham could barely be heard bellowing above them (in the few moments he wasn’t ceding the microphone to eager audience members). Though the music was unmistakably grounded in hardcore, there were more than a few nods towards ’70s FM rock: southern-fried guitar curled like barbecue smoke in the background of “Running on Nothing,” while the regal chords that usher in “Remember My Name” made the song feel like an outtake from Quadrophenia. The songs arrived in bright, frantic bursts, yanked forward by Abraham’s coarse bark like a kid pulling his parents through a toy store. “Ship of Fools” went up like a flag doused in lighter fluid, drummer Jonah Falco delivering a steady barrage of machine-gun fills; on “A Little Death” guitars clawed and pitched as Abraham and bassist Sandy Miranda ominously cautioned, “I’m better off, it was too much/ a little death from every touch.”
Fucked Up may be too rowdy to revel in misery, but they’re not pie-eyed or unrealistic either. When redemption finally arrived at the end of the night, it wasn’t as some mystic, all-healing salve, but instead as a kind of earned wisdom marked by grief, knowledge and acceptance. “You can only look back at the time you spent,” Abraham hollered, “Not the life that you wanted—the life that you led.”
Critical bias: Damian high-fived me about two songs into the set. That, combined with his pug tattoo, had me pretty much eating out of his hand.
Overheard: “Yo, I think that’s the general manager of Matador Records against the pole over there.” (It wasn’t.)
Random notebook dump: Patrick Stickles from opening act Titus Andronicus has shaved off his beard, and this is affecting my opinion of them more than I want to admit.