2012 was a great year for live music in the Boston area. Here is the creme of the crop, according to me:
1. Refused at House of Blues Boston, July 20th
One of the greatest hardcore bands of all time proved that their reunion was not just a Cochella money grab when they announced an extensive world tour that stopped in Boston in August. Their 90 minute set was overwhelmingly intense. The aggression precision, and showmanship the band displayed defied every law that should govern a group of 40 year olds that had called it quits 14 years earlier. It would seem natural to say I wish I could have seen them in their prime, but I’m pretty sure this was it.
2. Bruce Springsteen at TD Garden, March 26th
There’s no such thing as a bad Bruce show, but a few factors made this one special. It was Sprinsteen’s first Boston show in three years and coincided with the release of his new album Wrecking Ball. While the tour would make multiple stops in New York and New Jersey, this was the only scheduled Boston show and had sold out in minutes. The three hours sets included a soul melody inspired by the band’s recent performance at the Apollo Theater, an epic encore with the house lights on, and everything else that has made Sprinsteen and Co. rock’s most consistent performers.
3. Motion City Soundtrack Double Header at Bamboozle Festival, May 19th
While there was no explanation as to why MCS was slated for two slots on the same stage at the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, you weren’t going to hear any complaints from me. Their two appearances, one in the early afternoon and one much later at night, covered a good chunk of their discography and included very few repeats. They garnered the most enthusiastic crowd reaction that I saw all day, which is pretty impressive considering they were competing with the likes of the Foo Fighters on the main stage.
4. The Gaslight Anthem at the Middle East Downstairs, July 22nd
The Gaslight Anthem is way too big to be playing a 550 capacity venue, but that didn’t stop them from doing a small club tour in advance of their new album Handwritten this summer. Their show at the Middle East featured a lot of old tracks, previews or a few new ones, and a whole lot of sweat.
5. Jack’s Mannequin at El Rey Theater, November 11th
The band’s final two shows acted as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation and helped to raise $50,000 for childhood cancer research. Andrew McMahon and company’s second to last show featured a very well crafted career spanning set list that even included Something Corporate favorite “Konstantine”
6. Crime In Stereo and I Am The Avalanche at Gramercy Theater, November 24th
Crime in Stereo quietly called it a day in 2010, leaving their fans with little information as to why they had broken up or what they planned to do next. Their 2012 reunion was as unexpected as their breakup, and their first show back proved they still had it. An adrenaline packed opening set from local favorites I Am the Avalanche started things off on the right foot, and had the crowd ready for what would be a memorable 90 minute performance from the headliners. Their set mirrored their discography in that it was as haunting as it was powerful. Frontman Kristian Hallbert danced in and out of the venue’s brilliant, bliding spotlights while the rest of the band tore through each song as if they had never been apart.
7. Coldplay at TD Garden, July 29th
Chris Martin and Co. returned to the Garden for two sold out shows that featured all of the theatrics you would expect for $130 a ticket. This included light-up bracelets that were handed out to everyone in the arena, which the band controlled to made the show look a whole lot like the recently completed Olympic Opening Ceremony.
8. Fun at House of Blues Boston, April 21st
It’s not very often that you get to watch a hardworking band get the attention that they deserve, but that’s exactly what happened to fun in 2012. After their excellent debut album Aim and Ignite was largely ignored, a Super Bowl ad and a few radio spins helped fun become one of the year’s best success stories, and they made a stop in Boston just as their stock was about to shoot through the roof. The crowd’s reaction to the band’s every move made it obvious that a sold out show at the House of Blues was just the start of something very big.
9. Frank Turner at Royale, September 6th
Frank Turner also had a standout 2012, shooting from cult favorite to rock radio staple. He would play two sold out shows at Royale in September, and the first proved that the success certainly hasn’t gone to his head. Turner and the Sleeping Souls played great mix of songs new and old and made sure they weren’t overshadowed by opening act Larry and his Flash, who had put on a great show in their own right.
10. Bouncing Souls at House of Blues Boston, August 4th
While a half empty House of Blues may seem like a strange location for a Bouncing Souls show, the surprising absence of both bouncers and a barrier in front of the stage made for the what was easily the craziest show I’ve been to at the venue since it opened four years ago. After an excellent opening set from the Menzingers, the Bouncing Souls took the stage for what at first seemed like a snooze fest, as the band debuted a number of tracks from their recently released album Comet. When fans realized there would be no repercussions for making their way on stage, the stage diving competition was in session for the rest of the show.
Very Honorable Mentions
Say Anything, Murder By Death, Fake Problems at House of Blues Boston
Neon Trees at the Paradise
The Killers at Agganis Arena
Andrew Jackson Jihad at TT the Bears
Joyce Manor at TT the Bears
The Gaslight Anthem have now churned out four outstanding full lengths in only five years, and this might be their best yet. It takes everything everyone loved from their earlier work, smooths out the rough edges, and turns the volume way up.
Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls? – “Howl”
While I would love to declare a tie for my favorite record of the year, I can’t do that, so I’ll have to relegate this masterpiece to second best. It is nearly perfect in all ways – from the deeply personal lyrics, to the dual vocal attack of Greg Barnett and Tom May, to the fact that it is such a huge improvement over it’s predecessor, 2010′s Champerlain Waits. This is the album that announces the arrival of one of today’s brightest up and coming acts.
Like when we would take rides
In your American muscle car
I felt American for once in my life
I never felt it again – “Good Things”
This band is huge for a reason. Some Nights is the rare album that makes a statement while still being extremely accessible. While every song sounds like it is being fueled by a mixture of cotton candy and sweet tarts, the lyrics hint at lead singer Nate Ruess’s struggles with his own past, high expectations, and society’s notions of what a rock band is supposed to be.
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style - “Some Nights”
After the not-so-great Working On A Dream, Bruce and Co. came out swinging on Wrecking Ball and created an album that is as vital as anything the band has created over their 30+ year career.
Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn – “Shackled And Drawn”
While it might not be the most consistent album, Picture Shows standout tracks deliver on the promise the band displayed on their wildly success debute EP, Habits. “Everybody Talks” proved that good music can still make it’s way to the radio, but “Weekend” is the album’s best example of pop gold.
don’t you know how it feels
to get days and months and years
trapped inside a waking dream
I bet you you and I could sit back
tonight and try
to make it more than just a fantasy – “Weekend”
I like this album because POS makes it clear that he is mad at everyone and everything. It’s an album about the Occupy Movement from someone who hates the Occupy Movement.
Cool new blanket
Stole it from the shelf at the Walmart thankless
Threat level awesome
Threat level orange juice
Who’s gonna stop ‘em
We ain’t gotta throw stones at a glass house
We break in, just so we can smash out
- “All Of It”
While they had a lot to live up to after their debut album made them an overnight sensation in the UK, they meet those exepcetions with Come of Age. It is therefore ironic that one of the album’s standout tracks (“No Hope”) is all about letting everyone down.
And I could make an observation,
If you want the voice of a generation,
but I’m too self-absorbed to give it clout. – “No Hope”
While Please Remain Calm certainly has some catchy tunes, it’s value lies in the lyrics. Vocalist Chris Martin and Co. are able to capture what it means to live in our Great Recession society better than any band I’ve heard.
Turned a circus for gamblers and gawkers and thieves.
When the word got around, we spilled out on the streets.
As the banks decorate every house in defeat. – “On Both Eyes”
The debut full-length from this English quintet is similar to Hostage Calm’s debut album in that what sets it apart from other releases is its lyrics. Lead singer James Mattock paints in broad strokes, leaving almost every song open to interpretation, proving there is much more to the record that the straight forward rock you’ll hear upon first listen.
We’re the overestimated underdogs
What you await from us, now you can get for yourself – “Til The Wonders Rise”
The Killers - Battle Born
While their last effort was dressed up with electronics and slick production, Battle Born returns to the stripped down rock and storytelling of 2006′s Sam’s Town. It may not be as radio-friendly as their earlier work, but tracks like bombastic lead single “Runaways” and “Miss Atomic Bomb” can still blow the roof off of any arena.
They say I’ll adjust
God knows I must
But I’m not sure how
This natural selection picked me out to be
A dark horse running in a fantasy
“Flesh And Bone”
Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Titus Andronicus - Local Business
Hot Water Music - Exister
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Top Ten Songs of 2012:
1. The Menzingers – “Burn After Writing”
2. The Menzingers – “Good” Things”
3. Hostage Calm “On Both Eyes”
4. The Gaslight Anthem – “Howl”
5. Neon Trees – “Still Young“
6. The Vaccines “Teenage Icon”
7. Sharks “‘Til The Wonders Rise”
8. Japandroids “Continuous Thunder”
9. Bruce Springsteen – “Death To My Hometown”
10. Hot Water Music “State Of Grace”
Titus Andronicus “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter”
The Rolling Stones – “One More Shot”
Neon Trees – “Weekend”
Blink-182 “Boxing Day”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Mulholland Drive”
Neon Tree – “Everybody Talks”
I’ve never written a book review before, except maybe in an elementary school English class, but now seems like a good time to post my first. Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce chronicles Bruce Springsteen’s career in often painstaking detail, giving fans a rare look into the mind behind one of rock and roll’s must successful and revered acts.
Reviewing Carlin’s Springsteen biography, is somewhat less daunting than reviewing one of his live shows. I’ve seen Bruce multiple times this year, but haven’t written a single review. The band’s live performances are jam packed with memorable moments, basically three hours of rock euphoria. It’s the type of show that words can’t do justice.
In Bruce, Carlin attempts to capture the passion and energy that Springsteen brings to the stage and help fans understand what fuels it. While there have been plenty of books published chronicling Springsteen’s life and career, this is the first book to be written with input from the Boss himself, which certainly helps Carlin achieve his goal.
The author had no contractual agreement with Springsteen or the band’s management, and was therefore free to be brutally honest at times. Carlin notes in the text that Springsteen had told him his only responsibility was to paint an accurate picture of the band and its leader, and it certainly seems like he was successful in doing so.
Over a musical career that has stretched over four decades, Bruce has become an iconic, almost mythical figure in the eyes of millions. His charisma and stage precense, as well as his devotion to his craft and his fans has earned him a spot as one of the most recognizable and respected musicians of all time. However, the most intriguing aspect of this book is not in the illustration of these characteristics, but is instead in the examples and stories that prove Bruce is human and flawed, just like his legion of fans.
Springsteen’s often complicated and turbulent relationship with his family, band members, managers, and label executives paint him as a somewhat selfish perfectionist who sets standards very few can live up to. Bruce’s history with the E Street Band is explored at length, and the often cold relationship between the lead singer and his right hand men, including Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons is especially surprising considering the on-stage chemistry the band has shared.
While Carlin explores Springsteen’s flaws and career missteps, the book does in fact confirm many of the traits that are at the core of the Springsteen legend. These traits include his focus on everyday Americans – both in his songwriting and in his charity work, his dedication to his fans and his home state, and of course, his undeniable drive to be the best live act in the world.
The most impressive aspect of the book is how well researched it is. From the very start, it is obvious that Carlin has talked to just about everyone who has ever had a connection to Bruce. Input from fellow Jersey shore musicians provides great insight into Bruce development from scrawny teenager, to local hero in the 70′s and then international star 80′s.
Also central to the story is the way in which Carlin chronicles Springsteen’s extensive touring career and describes landmark performances in great detail, including Springsteen’s luke-warm reception at his first show in London and his mammoth Born In The USA stadium tour.
For any die-hard Bruce fan looking for greater insight into Springsteen’s music, this is a must read. It perfectly illustrates how Sprinsteen, unlike many of his peers over the last thirty years, has achieved such tremendous staying power and can still connect with fans and sell out stadiums 35 years after “Born To Run” hit the airwaves. For the casual fan, the book might provide more information than you’re looking for, but if you’re in the market for a Springsteen biography, I can’t imagine there are any better than this.
Jack’s Mannequin, Matt Thiessen – November 11th, 2012, El Ray Theater, Las Angeles
Farewell shows are tricky. When is the last time you heard someone say “I can’t wait to see my favorite band breakup and play their last show”? Unless Weezer was involved, the answer is probably “never”. Unfortunately, breakups happen, and once the shock of the split has passed, the rush to grab tickets to the farewell performance begins.
The news that Jack’s Mannequin was calling it a career after seven very successful years did not come as a surprise to those who followed the band. Lead singer/mastermind Andrew McMahon had hinted that the band would be disbanded in numerous interviews prior to the announcement, and even the most die-hard fans had to admit that the Jack’s Mannequin moniker had had a pretty good run.
Starting as a Something Corporate side project in 2005, the group’s debut album Everything In Transit had struck pop-rock gold, helping to swell McMahon’s already sizable fan base and generating radio and TV success with lead single “The Mixed Tape.” This success came despite the fact that McMahon was busy battling leukemia when the album was released.
After winning the battle and hitting the road to promote the album, the band’s success would continue through the release of 2008′s The Glass Passenger and 2011’s People And Things.
Speculation as to why the band was calling it quits didn’t revolve around the typical factors. For one, it has always been understood that McMahon is the man in change and controls the artistic direction of the band. It is therefore unlikely internal strife played much of a role. While the group’s meteoric rise had slowed a bit of late, People And Things had been well received by fans, and the ensuing tours had sold out large clubs around the country.
According to McMahon’s rather cryptic breakup message, it seemed that he was simply tired of writing songs as Jack’s Mannequin, and instead wanted the freedom that a solo career would bring. He had gone on record as saying that he would continue to play JM songs at live performances, so the farewell shows the band scheduled for November 11th and 12th in Los Angeles weren’t exactly the last time we would hear from McMahon.
In addition to being the band’s last two performances, these shows would serve as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation, which McMahon had created in 2006 to help fight the effects of young adult cancer. The two nights would end up raising a very impressive $50,000 for the charity.
I was lucky enough to score tickets to what was originally scheduled to be the final JM show on 11/11. The second show was added after ticket sales for the first night crashed servers and caused an uproar among fans who hoped to catch one last glimpse of the band.
Our tickets allowed us the chance to see the band’s sound check before the show, which was a 45 minute affair where the band played a number of complete songs and parts of others. McMahon joked with the crowd during the session and then signed autographs afterwards. It was a great way to give fans more access the band while raising money for the foundation. Tracks included “The Mixed Tape,” “Spinning”, “Annie Use Your Telescope” “Amy I”, “Bloodshot” and pieces of “Restless Dream”, “Hammers And Strings,” And “MFEO”.
Once the entire crowd made their way inside the 700-person capacity El Ray Theater, the night began with a set from Matt Thiessen. The Reliant K front man was the only opener, and he said he was “honored” to be joining JM for their final performances.
Thiessen started off on the piano with a handful of Reliant K tracks that many in the crowd seemed familiar with, including “Be My Escape” And “Sadie Hawkins.” He then moved from the piano to an acoustic guitar to perform a number of solo tracks he had recently written, including the country-inspired “Pot of Gold”, which earned quite a reaction from the audience. To close his set, Thiessen was joined on stage by Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson for a cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Anderson expertly hit the high notes during the song’s instantly recognizable chorus, and the pair received a big ovation as they left the stage.
Between sets, Dear Jack Foundation Executive Director Steve Smith appeared to thank the fans for their support and to give an update on the charity. He introduced Erik Cwiertney, representing the Matt Cwiertney Memorial Foundation, a charity that provides cancer patients iPods with pre-loaded playlists that include artists such as McMahon, Dave Hause, Matt Costa, and many others. Cwiertney explained the “Matt’s Mixed Tape” iPod program and thanked the Dear Jack foundation for their support of the endeavor.
Shortly afterwards, the red curtain that had blocked the stage was drawn, revealing Jack’s Mannequin, already at their posts and ready to start the show with “Holiday From Real.” Beginning with the opening track from their debut album, this was the perfect way to start the night. The band would stick with upbeat, early album tracks until the show’s fifth song, “Annie Use Your Telescope” slowed things down a bit.
Thiessen made his way back on stage for “Amy I,” which McMahon explained the two had written together during their time together at Thiessen’s Nashville home. Thiessen was not the set’s only special guest, as the band was also joined by original bassist Jonathan Sullivan, aka “Dr. J.” for a number of songs, including the bass heavy crowd favorite “Bloodshot.”
While there were few surprises in the setlist, the band displayed more energy than I had ever seen them bring to a show, and the addition of Thiessen’s second guitar on a number of songs only added to the atmosphere. The crowd returned the group’s energy, singing along and cheering loudly at the conclusion of every song.
“Hammers And Strings” and “Dark Blue” would serve as the final two songs of the set. While both tracks have been live staples for years, these farewell performances seemed to breathe new life into both. After the band left the stage, the crowd begged for more, and McMahon and company were happy to oblige.
Before playing the first song of the encore, McMahon addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”. He apologized for the fact that this was not the final JM show, as originally promised, and he justified it by saying the second night had raised an additional $25,000. McMahon then said he had a special treat or “giant bear hug” for the crowd, and while he admitted it might seem blasphemous, he quietly kicked into marathon Something Corporate hit “Konstantine.” The crowd roared its approval, their initial gripes now forgotten. McMahons promised the band absolutely would not play the song the next night.
At the conclusion of the nine and half minute epic, the band would then play an epic of their own, the eight minute “MFEO/You Can Breathe Now”. This snapped the crowd out of their Konstantine trance, and the momentum carried into the final song of the night, “La La Lie”.
As the band made their way off stage, there wasn’t the sense of finality that you would expect from this type of show. Of course, this was due to the fact that the band would have one more at bat the next night, but it can also be attributed to the fact that everyone knows McMahon’s musical career is far from over. This hadn’t stopped many in attendance from going very far out of their way to be in attendance, as McMahon noted that he had talked to more fans from the East Coast than from the West Coast.
This is evidence of the type of connection Jack’s Mannequin had built with their fans in just seven years. While it’s a shame that that legacy will disappear along with the name, this series of benefit shows seemed like the perfect way to celebrate that legacy and close this chapter of McMahon’s career.
If you’re interested in donating to the Dear Jack Foundation and increasing that $50,000 total, visit http://www.dearjackfoundation.com/donate/
What We Talk About, Allston MA
October 12th, 2012
Have you ever been to a basement show? I for one have not, but I
can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone say they saw a
successful band in someone’s basement before they got big. Whether
these claims are true or not is hard to say, but it’s easy to
understand why these basements shows are often recounted as borderline
A set played without barriers, security, rules, or even a stage
pretty much removes everything that is bad about live music -
everything that puts the performers both literally and figuratively
above everyone else in the room. A basement show is all about the
music and the energy it creates, and everything else gets left at
On Friday I got a chance to experience what is about as close as I’m
probably going to get to a basement show. Scranton, PA’s Tigers Jaw had
just played a sold-out show at the Democracy Center in Cambridge
earlier in the night. Apparently, a number of fans had gotten shut out
of the show, and instead of being left out in the cold until the band
made it back to Mass, they told those who had been turned away to
check their Facebook page for details on a second set later that
Sure enough, the band posted plans for a set in Allston, but they only
sent the address to those who posted in a certain thread. With a
little bit of research, I was able to find out the show would be held
at a venue known as “What We Talk About”, which is about a ten minute
walk from my apartment. By this point is was around midnight, but, why
We headed over to the venue, and while the space isn’t technically a
basement, the lack of windows and exposed piping could have fooled
anyone into thinking it was. Tigers Jaw took their spot on the floor
as maybe 40-50 people gathered just a few feet from their mic stands.
I had never actually listened to the band before, and maybe a basement
show isn’t the best introduction considering the sound quality, but I
thought they sounded very good throughout most of the set. The crowd
at the front was very enthusiastic, even if many of them were hearing
these songs for the second time of the night.
Next up was an acoustic set from Stoneham, MA’s Transit featuring lead
singer Joe Boynton and guitarist Tim Landers. According to Boyton, the
band was back home after a recent tour and were looking to play as
many shows as possible. They had jumped on this show last minute after
(apparently) attending the first Tigers Jaw set.
While the crowd had thinned, about 25 people stayed to hear the duo
play about 5-6 songs, all of them from their most recent release
Listen And Forgive, save for “Outbound” from the Stay Home EP. To say
the set was laid back would be an understatement, as Boyton joked
with those at the front, including one fan who accused him of
stealing his hoodie, which Boyton said he had bought at Target for
$20. Clothing jokes aside, the Listen and Forgive tracks continue to
shine in a live setting.
By the time Transit wrapped up their set, it was after 2AM – meaning
both bands had traveled across town to work some serious overtime in
order to make their diehard fans happy. It’s the type of dedication
and sincerity you don’t see from many bands today. It’s also why it’s
easy to imagine everyone in attendance recounting the story of how
they saw Tigers Jaw and Transit in a basement before they got big a
few years down the road. I know I will be.
Morrissey – Wang Theater, Boston – October 5th, 2012
Morrissey has long been one of music’s most polarizing figures. To some,
he is a living legend and pop-culture icon. To others,
he is a self-absorbed ego maniac. Love him or loathe him,
you have to admit that part of Morrissey’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a
walking contradiction: a wildly successful rock star who sings
about misery and loneliness. That
contradiction is what brought thousands of adoring fans to Boston’s
striking Wang Theater to see the first date of Morrissey’s massive
North American tour. The trek will see him visit just about every major
and minor market across the country, culminating with a stop at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While I’m not very well versed in the specifics of Morrissey’s set list
choices over the years, I do know that the former
Smiths frontman often sprinkles in a few choice cuts from his former
band. I also knew that he tends to stray away from the more
radio-friendly fare that helped make him a household name as a solo
artist in the late 80′s and early 90′s.
Beyond these unwritten rules, the possibilities seemed endless on the
first night of the tour. As Morrissey stepped out on to the stage
with his band following close behind, the crowd erupted. The cheers
got louder and louder as Morrissey calmly stepped to the front of the
stage to take a pre-show bow, and then kicked off the set with “You
Have Killed Me”.
From the very start, it was obvious that Morrissey had come to put on
a show, looking and sounding well rested and ready to tackle North
America for the first time in three years. He added a certain amount
of grit to his normally polished songs, often growling certain words
or lines for extra emphasis. His band was happy to play along, sounding
louder and heavier than on any recordings.
While the set was expertly performed, it would best be described as
“uneven” in terms of song selection and pacing. More upbeat fare
(maybe upbeat isn’t the word) such as “Every Day Is Like A Sunday” and
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” garnered huge reactions from the
crowd and were some of the best moments of the set. However, most of
these songs came at the start of the night.
The show lost a good deal of momentum in the middle of the 90 minute set, as the
band strung together the quartet of “Last Night I Dreamt That Someone
Loved Me”, “Fantastic Bird”, “People Are The Same Everywhere”, ” And
“Meat Is Murder”. The latter featured a graphic animal cruelty video projected on the backdrop.
At that point, the crowd was getting anxious.
Morrissey and crew then segued into “Scandanavia,” which was one of four
songs that the band played that hadn’t been include on any other 2012 set list.
Following this, Morrissey broke out the Smith’s classic “I Know It’s
Over”, which sounded absolutely perfect and helped to revitalize the
crowd. The set would then close with “I’m OK By Myself”, the last
track from his most recent album, 2009′s excellent “Years of Refusal”.
By this point, many of those who had front row seats were rushing the
stage, and while the crew did their best to repel them, a few
did slip by to score an awkward embrace with the man himself.
After a short break, Morrissey and the band returned to the stage for
a one song encore, the Smiths track “How Soon Is Now”. Stretching nearly seven minutes long, the song gave the overly eager fans at the front another chance to bum-rush the stage, and they certainly took advantage of it.
At the conclusion of the song, Morrissey and the band joined arms and
took a post-show bow.
While the set certainly was not the feel good event of the year, most
fans got exactly what they were looking for out of this performance.
Both Morrissey’s vocals and his band were spot-on, and his stage
presence is unmatched. While this was far from a greatest hits set, it did represent a good
cross section of Morrissey’s career. While this appealed to the many
die-hard fans in attendance, the show probably wouldn’t win
over anyone who had been on the fence, but most of those people probably
made up their minds on Morrissey years ago.
Refused and Off! – House of Blues Boston – Friday July 21st, 2012
“The greatest band in the world right now.” “Unreal” “Best live show ever.”
The hyperbolic statements were everywhere, and I could only hope they were true. Refused hadn’t been a band in a very long time. After releasing what is arguably the greatest and most influential hardcore record of all time in 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, the band abruptly split up. They became the rare example of a band that would grow to be exponentially more popular once they were gone, and they hadn’t been heard from since.
When news leaked that the band would be reuniting for this year’s Cochella Festival, even long-time fans and those in the know seemed somewhat shocked, as band members had gone on the record as saying there was no chance they would ever share the same stage again.
Fast forward about six months, and their comeback has been tremendously well received. What was originally planned to be a one-off gig became a few shows in New York (which sold out almost instantly), and then a full blown world tour, including stops in major North American cities and large festivals throughout Europe.
Boston happened to be one of those North American cities, and the band was ready to play what was apparently their first (and most likely last) area show.
They were preceded by Off!, a band with an impressive legacy of its own. Frontman Keith Morris had at one point fronted Black Flag, while the other members of band cut their teeth in acts such as Burning Brides, Redd Kross, and Rocket From The Crypt. While they were on stage for less than 45 minutes, they had time to play about 15 songs. Morris did his best to psych up the crowd in between songs and get them ready for “The Refused”.
While the Off! was entertaining and Morris’s banter made him seem like a pretty likeable guy, it was obvious that most in the crowd hadn’t dove into Off!’s catalog in preparation for the show.
While Morris promised the headliners would be out in 15-20 minutes, standard House of Blues protocol applied, and the wait was actually 30. This was punctured by the lights going down fifteen minutes prior to the headliners taking the stage behind a giant black screen. During those fifteen minutes, a noticeable buzz was piped over the PA, and as the house lights slowly scanned downward the band could be seen through the transparent spots in the screen.
As they played the opening notes to “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”, the screen fell and the crowd charged forward. As the seven minute epic ebbed and flowed, so did the energy of the crowd, building to a furry towards the end of the song as those at the front of the stage screamed “Let’s Take The First Bus Out Of Here” over and over again.
What followed were two of the night’s most intense numbers: the frantic “Refused Party Program” and the schizophrenic “Liberation Frequency.” It was here that frontman Dennis Lyxzén took control of the show, proving himself to be one of the most talented and charismatic lead singers I’ve ever seen.
While countless bands have attempted the sing/scream dynamic over the past decade, none have pulled it off with the surgical precision that Lyzen displayed, deftly moving between the band’s restrained verses and thundering chorus.
Lyxen’s vocal work was not the only impressive aspect of his performance. He moved around the stage with the energy, and in this case the furry, of a man half his age (he is 40). At one point he could be seen launching the mic into the air, only to leap from the drum riser to catch it on the way down. This was only slightly less impressive than his trip into the crowd, where he sang much of a song as he was held aloft by the fans below.
While most of the set was focused on the band’s magnus opus, they did play four tracks from Songs To Fan The Flames of Discontent, including the crushing “Hook, Line And Sinker.” These four songs were just as well received by the crowd as were the better known tracks from The Shape of Punk To Come.
The band would close their set after 12 songs with “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and make their way off stage. Those towards the first front of the venue found themselves covered in sweat, thoroughly exhausted, and most importantly, 100% ready to expand whatever energy they had left on the band’s two song encore.
Returning to the stage after a longer-than average wait, Refused started with the long intro to “New Noise”, which garnered a roar from the crowd as they readied for complete chaos. By the time the band hit the first chorus, the amount of adrenaline in the room could have matched an Olympic weight lifting session.
The show would then come to a climatic ending with another epic number, the 8-minute long Tannhäuser / Derivè. With its multiple peaks and valleys and changes in pace, the song perfectly represents Refused’s work as a whole and ended the set on a high note.
The band came together at the front of the stage to take a bow and soak in the crowd’s enthusiasm. Throughout the show, Lyxzén had discussed the band’s very political lyrics and how they still seemed as relevant today as they did back in 1997. The Shape Of Punk To Come was years ahead of its time, and to this day, no band has been able to match it.
It’s very rare that a group playing this type of music is mentioned in the “best band’s in the world right now” discussion, but with their stunning live show, Refused have staked their claim to a spot at the top of that list. It is even more impressive when you consider how long the band was away, and how short-lived the reunion is likely to be. The band has added another chapter in what was already a very impressive story, and with their live show, they’ve once again set the bar so high it’s hard to imagine it being matched anytime soon.