Monday, April 23
Better than: Most of the 21st century.
It took 15 years, but Refused is ready to forgive. The first injustice came when people ignored their second release, Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent. Refused followed that up by mocking its fans’ lack of daring with The Shape of Punk To Come, which had an anything-goes mentality about it—jazz? Sure. Rave-worthy electronica? Go for it. Rambling spoken word? Why not? The guitars are relentless and lead singer Dennis Lyxzen provides rabid, anarcho-Communist lyrics by the bucketload, but more importantly, Shape was an attempt to musically represent the open-ended punk DIY ethos: As long as it makes your head bang, it’s probably all right. But Refused still kind of hated its fanbase, and the members definitely hated each other, so they broke up in 1998, right as Shape of Punk started to get noticed. Their legend grew, and despite continued promises not to reunite, the Swedish hardcore act is now riding the wave of its 20th-century success.
The packed crowd at Terminal 5 was ready—but first everyone would have to get through Ceremony’s set alive.
Ceremony are becoming stars of what could be termed a New Sincere Violence in punk, turning heads for sounding exactly like 1980 and encouraging the toughest mosh pits their crowds can muster. Singer Ross Farrar staggered around the stage like a wounded animal, sounding powerful on opener “Asylum” but lost elsewhere. Terminal 5, a giant cavern of a venue, isn’t the type of place you picture a hardcore show, and during Ceremony’s set the crowd didn’t feel like helping to change that. Only moments after a mosh-pit started it would end, leaving the crowd with a giant, abandoned crater in its center, which drink servers would hurriedly scuttle through.
Refused, on the other hand, seemed to be keenly aware of its grand surroundings, starting their set with a giant curtain spelling their name out in light. Then came the haunting, spidery opening guitars of “Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull,” Shape‘s opener, and the once-docile crowd showed why they could barely be moved by Ceremony: they had been saving up this bum rush for 13 years, and they’d be damned if they were going to waste it.
Lots of emotions are associated with this type, but “unbridled joy” is a relatively rare one. You can see it in bands like Fucked Up, who turn their concerts into revivals based in feeling, guttural screaming openly indebted to the community slam dancing in front of it. And for the New York-indebted Refused, the show had a homecoming feel; Lyxzen referred to their multiple shows here (one the night before, and one after this one in Brooklyn) as “Clash on Broadway on a budget”. NYHC was frequently mentioned, and Lou Koller of Queens’s own Sick of It All came out to assist on SoIA’s “Injustice System”.
Lyxten’s often been mentioned as the reason the reason the band split up, but last night he was nothing but pure charm. Coming on stage in a dapper suit, he appeared to be hardcore’s answer to Jarvis Cocker: charmingly pretentious, self-effacing, and fully committed to his band’s post-band success. Before launching into tense burner “Summertime Vs. Punkroutine,” he half-jokingly described himself as a “Nostradamus” who had gotten mad in ’98 that their success hadn’t come yet. He later told stories admitting that when they were starting off, they were just “hardcore posers from North Sweden” who took on the NYHC look after “Agnostic Front came to Sweden and explained politics to us.”
Despite multiple warnings online that performances might be diminished (mainly from band members—the official tour announcement notes, “We are not the Rolling Stones”), the music was as forceful as ever. Lyxten’s voice, Jon Brännström and Kristofer Steen’s guitars, and Dave Sandström’s drums all found a way to occupy (#Occupy?) Terminal 5—even on a song like “Refused Party Program,” an intense screamer that should be a better fit for a sweaty, tiny venue. But Lyxten encouraged fists in the air, letting the song become the declaration of principles it was always meant to be. Later, on “Refused Are Fuckin Dead,” he would walk out on top of the crowd’s sea of hands. It was the physical play of friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time.
As political as Refused is, there was ample opportunity to discuss the American war on women’s choice, #Occupy, the Presidential election, or anything else. But the band instead kept it posi; between every scream there were wide-eyed smiles. Ending the night with “Tannhauser/Derrive” and its utopian proclamation “Boredom won’t get me tonight!,” Refused seemed thrilled to be able to put on a party for it’s closest friends. The crowd turned into a collective, with the familial punk spirit taking over. Slam dancing and moshing, turning raw energy into community—at Terminal 5, of all places.
Critical bias: As fantastic as this show was, the little weird things that make ,em>The Shape of Punk to Come so stunning—the classical touches, the surprising dash of techno—fell by the wayside, likely for technical reasons.
Overheard: “I didn’t know their fans were so dumb!”—a Refused fan, commenting on the four people getting really into Ceremony.
Random notebook dump: Does checking ESPN on your phone during a show signify a) hometown pride, b) regular-joe status, or c) just being kind of annoying?