Refused Ends 20 Year Boston Wait, Makes Every Other Band Look Bad
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.