Welcome to part whatever of the latest trip down memory lane, to see a live band from the past who are revisiting said past. But here, there are particular reasons for doing this, and I’ll come to those in a moment, but first, there was a support band to see.
The odd thing about Refused is just how many bands cite them as an influence, while entirely missing the point that what they did was to remind that there was more to punk and hardcore than just following the herd. And so it was with Pettybone, an all-girl hardcore/punk band that didn’t offer anything that I haven’t heard by a ton of other bands in the past. So there was lots of screaming, lots of thrashing breakdowns, and the sense of a band in their comfort zone, but never willing to push beyond it. But maybe, with it being their last London show before they disband in a month or so, they had nothing left to prove.
Interestingly, after all these years, it could be suggested that Refused have nothing left to prove either, but I suspect that isn’t quite the case. It always seemed that their creative high water mark, and the album that ended the band – The Shape of Punk To Come – was so far ahead of it’s time that it ended up taking most people a few years to appreciate the sheer brilliance contained within. And so it was with the live shows, too, with paltry attendences on the 1998 tour where the band fell apart.
Fast forward fourteen years, then, and fresh from the re-issue of the seminal album in an expanded format a couple of years back, and it has been pretty obvious in the run-up to this show just how many people are now interested. This show sold out in minutes once it was announced, prompting a second date, and the pleasant buzz of conversation prior to the band’s arrival onstage, a bit later than was initially suggested, abated as soon as the band arrived, suggesting that finally I was at a show where people who actually wanted to be there and see the band – for once.
After all the waiting, all the hoping, and all the reverence this band has received since their demise, it was refreshing also that the band were bristling with rage and power from the off. And, needless to say, the band concentrated on their strengths music-wise, which meant tracks from The Shape… and (to a lesser extent) Songs To Fan The Flames of Discontent, and aside from a B-side from the same period, there was nothing older, and no new songs.
Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull
The Refused Party Program
Rather Be Dead
Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine
The Deadly Rhythm
Hook, Line and Sinker
Refused Are Fucking Dead
Life Support Addiction
The Shape of Punk to Come
But why should they? Vocalist Dennis Lyxzen was in verbose form between songs, noting his joy at the reaction from the crowd, and also a suggestion that he was well aware of the fact that this is simply a reunion to cover old ground, noting “when we were a real band…” when talking about the past. Although on flipside, the band were previously adamant that they would never reform – so there may be the odd claim of hypocrisy now they are back together.
But even so, the blistering power of the live band was every bit as awesome as they were always made out to be. Ok, so opening with the lengthy Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull was a teeny bit unexpected, but it at least helped to bring things up to boiling point – particularly as by the time Liberation Frequency rolled ’round: the still-astonishing way the song absolutely rips out of the speakers when the chorus kicks in, and the crowd chants “We want the airwaves back”…fifteen years after the song was written, the sentiment is still the same, and perhaps even more pressing. Bands like Refused now have even less exposure on TV, radio, even internet, as advertising and mainstream/corporate interests squeeze out pretty any “alternative” options.
In fact, with most Refused material, it is pretty much impossible to separate the musical from the political. And this was something I was reminded of time and time again through the show – be it through the searing protest against the political norm of Rather Be Dead, or the sunny, anthemic fightback against accusations of “selling out” (the first time around!) of Summerholidays vs. Punk Routine. Even songs that appear at first glance to be sans message are anything but – a brutal two-minute thrash through Circle Pit delivering a swift kick to herd mentality.
The finest two moments in the show, though, came as the end approached – firstly a bruising run through The Shape of Punk to Come, which as the title suggests, is perhaps Refused taking their punk/hardcore building blocks in a different direction, the live variant showing it to be about as funky as it could possibly be, Dennis bouncing and dancing all over the stage; then finally as an encore, their best known song of all. New Noise raised the roof like no song I’ve perhaps ever heard live, too – the roar when that guitar riff burst out of the darkness was one thing, but when Dennis roared “CAN I SCREAM?”, the entire venue bellowed it back, setting the scene for an unbelievably celebrationary take on the song. Happily enough, someone managed to film it semi-professionally and put the result online.
For a band back for no other reason than, perhaps, to finally gain the adulation that they really deserved in the first place, this was an extraordinary show. Even fourteen years since their last album, few if any other hardcore bands have even dared to tread the path Refused blazed down, and I’m beginning to wonder if there ever could be another band like them. I’m just happy now to have been privileged to have seen this astonishing show.