When we last saw Refused they were headlining the first night of FYF Fest. After playing a smattering of scorching shows and a couple of high-profile appearances at Coachella, the band strongly hinted that their highly anticipated reunion was coming to an attend. It remains to be seen if the band will fully stop again after their final show in Sweden next month or whether they’ll continue to play random European festivals the way Faith No More has, but all significant indications point to that this is the end, again. Perhaps it’s for the best?
Opening the night were Los Angeles hardcore regulars The Bronx. The band blasted out their ’70s hard rock-inspired punk with an unnerving sense of patience and comfort, best described like a madman running the train off the tracks with a smile on his face. Lead singer Matt Caughthran rocked a perpetual smile as he screamed out each song. Opener “Heart Attack American” cut the deepest, but “White Tar” and “Pilot Light” also barreled along with full-throttle focus. Early career single “False Alarm” delivered the best dynamic range while “I Got Chills” had the best cathartic power. Caughtran spent the last two songs singing from inside the middle of the crowd, fully enveloped in a circle pit. This was all doubly impressive considering just three days earlier we saw them croon with stunning poise as their alter egos Mariachi el Bronx at a free Dia De Los Muertos event.
Refused are one of the few bands in recent memory to choose to have the music before their set begins be one unending, undulating tone. Oddly hypnotic, the tone ebbs forth in waves. Once the band’s gear is in position, the group slyly evolves the tone into a feedback crescendo and starts hammering out the first chords of “The Shape of Punk to Come” before their obscuring black curtain drops. While lead singer Dennis Lyxzén howls, “We’re all dressed up / we’ve got somewhere to go” guitarists Kristofer Steen and Jon Brännström cut angular chords across each other, shifting melodies and phrasings as nimbly as one might hopscotch over stones on a stream. “The Refused Party Program” and “Liberation Frequency” follow. By this point Lyxzén has already done an array of back flips, kicks and ninja dance moves that would make Mick Jagger and James Brown jealous. On “Liberation Frequency” the emphatic call of “We want the airwaves back” becomes a crowd rallying cry, implying strongly for a complete overhaul of the “content” that dominates the media (interpretation left open as to which they mean: music, entertainment or news).
Similarly, the finales of “Rather Be Dead” and “Coup D’etat” mount into eye-opening explosions of sound and fury. On the former, a call of “Rather be alive” draws contradiction to both the song’s title and the tenets of conformity that living normally means. On the latter the closing roar of “I will have my coup d’etat” is sung so forcefully it almost belies that a real revolution is imminent. You wouldn’t know otherwise judging by the sincerity the band plays with. “Summer Holidays Vs. Punk Routine” takes these philosophical notions to their political extreme calling out, “Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in,” as if anything less than a full restart would not be satisfactory. All the while, the band darts through passages with an almost criminal knack of song structure and adventurous melodic timing. There’s no sense in even being kind about it. This is songwriting that 99% of modern punk bands simply do not have the balls to even attempt, much less execute with this degree of stunning quality.
Drumer David Sandström turns the ending of “The Deadly Rhythm” into a pummeling conclusion and later Magnus Flagge’s bass lines are the essential foundation that makes the loud/quiet/loud shifting pulse of “Life Support Addiction” work. “Worm of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull” displays all of these properties in stunning array, a mutating series of angular chords, impossibly timed drum fills and frenetic shouts. It’s the first song of the encore though that shakes the crowd from any hesitation and pushes them into unbridled frenzy. By the time band has reached the lyrics “We dance – all the wrong songs / We enjoy – all the wrong moves,” the crowd is basically screaming in unison for them. As it did at the FYF Fest performance, ” Tannhauser/Derive” closes out the evening. The song’s lyrics serve as an appropriate answer to the calls for change and revolution that many of the night’s songs made mention of. Lyxzén sings, “So where do we go from here? / Just about anywhere / Disorientated but alive / Boredom won’t get me tonight / Let’s bring this city to life, to light – tonight.” The words, “Boredom won’t get me tonight” return as the song’s closing, repeated refrain. Do Refused mean so long as there is a need for change they will always find excitement in striking forward to implement it?
And if that’s what they mean, why hang it up now? In the USA we sit poised—literally this very day—on the verge of one of the most divisive elections in recent history. It’s hard to imagine a time with a greater need for change. For that matter, music in general (not just punk music) has never needed a champion like this more. A group whose purpose is as legitimate as their bent for artistic excellence, and in a world filled with bands that lack authenticity, this band is one of the most authentic acts we have. It’s hard not to want them to stay, to make more music and serve as the kind of exemplum that young talent sorely needs. To be an agent of change when things seem hell bent to stay the same. However, punk music has always been famous for burning itself out in the heat of the moment. That spark, the fireball as it were, leaves us caught up in the aftershock, and it’s those tremors that make us remember the bands so fondly. They were of the moment, and how insanely well timed their moment was is much of what gives the urgency to the music that makes it so vital. This was that moment for Refused, and maybe, just maybe, it’s better that they recede now, reminding us how badly this type of excellence is needed every day.
“The Shape of Punk to Come”
The Refused Party Program”
“Rather Be Dead”
“Summer Holidays Vs. Punk Routine”
“Hook, Line and Sinker”
“The Deadly Rhythm”
“Protest Song ’68”
“Life Support Addiction”
“Refused Are Fucking Dead”
“Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull”