“Every band, after a while, loses their mind on the road,” says Damian Abraham, the burly, gregarious, often-topless frontman of Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up, standing in the back staircase at the New York club Le Poisson Rouge on Monday night. The band are about to play the entirety of their 2011 album, David Comes to Life, an ambitious song suite about a guy, a girl, love, death, betrayal – all that good stuff – that has helped the sextet cross over further than they ever have into a mainstream audience. But right now Abraham isn’t talking about the vibrant present. He’s more interested in the imminently barren future.
In a recent interview with Spinner, Abraham vaguely discussed a break the band was going on, which led to speculation he was leaving the band for good. He’d since made it unequivocally clear that wasn’t the case, tweeting, “Hey everyone: I’M NOT QUITTING FUCKED UP.” But tonight, the three have no problem directly addressing the tensions that are leading to the pause in activity.
“It’s very solitary, touring,” explains Abraham, who is adorably interrupted at one point by his toddler son waddling up the stairs. “There’s this imagination that you’re with your group of friends, and you are, but after you tour together for more than two or three years, you run out of things to talk about. You’re in foreign countries, you don’t speak the language. You wind up a lot of time in silence.”
Drummer Jonah Falco is just as careful as Abraham to note how grateful they all are for their opportunities. “You don’t have the external part of your life to qualify that tour,” he says. “That’s the funny thing that happens when you switch from being a person that has a job and has a life, and goes on tour as an exceptional thing, to touring all the time. This record, the way it’s being received, [it means] we’ve played the most shows we’ve ever played in one year. And this is after two or three years of having played the most shows we’ve ever played. The energy starts to press on you. It was like the collective body of Fucked Up, passing out.”
I ask Falco and bassist Sandy Miranda if Abraham is the “Gwen Stefani” of Fucked Up – as he self-identified in the interview that started all the hubbub. The interaction is jokey, but they do take the question seriously. Falco says, “I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t in the back of my mind thought of [the ‘Don’t Speak’] video. You see, ‘Oh, gee whiz, the singer gets all the attention, and the band is just these forgotten workers that plod away.’ But you understand that there’s the public face.”
Miranda responds, “I understand how having one face on the cover on the magazine makes it easier for passerby to identify the band, but I do kind of wish it was all six of us on that cover. To break that myth of the singer being all.”
Abraham: “But, unfortunately, it’s not the case.” Big laughs.
Fucked Up has never played all of David Comes to Life before; too burned out on playing chunks of it live, they haven’t even brought themselves to run through it all the way in practice. You can’t tell. Along with a small, suited string quartet playing the album’s interludes (the band shushes the audience politely when it’s time for the classically trained folks), the band blast through the thing.
The stage is set up in the round, meaning a pit erupts where Abraham has first positions himself, after the monstrous first riff of “Queen of Hearts” drops, then gamely follows him around the circular stage as best it can. Abraham goes off on endearing tangents about the difficulty of getting around New York with a stroller (along with the beers and the cold cuts, that stroller is now stashed backstage) and about his kid’s favorite Fucked Up song.
At one point, he tromps out to the bar, clambers up top, and asks, “Do you guys want to see something erotic?” Soon, there’s candle wax dripping down his chest hair and tattoo. “Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body,” he sings. Then: “Now I’ve made up for Madonna making candles sexy. By making them so unsexy.” When some of the wax gets down to his shorts, he points out, “Now it looks like semen.”
Fucked Up is planning on doing a full David Comes to Life show in Toronto as well. They’re also booked on the indie-rock Bruise Cruise in February. As to the prospect of more David touring, they’re not so sure. It’s apparent that they’ve already had this conversation among themselves a bunch of times. They already know where everyone stands. Quickly, the conversation meanders to a more amusing subject: who’s seen Abraham shirtless more, the band or his wife?
Miranda: “I’ve seen him without a shirt probably a thousand times.”
Abraham: “For years, I didn’t even take my shirt off when I had sex. I’d go swimming with my shirt on. I’d do one of these also” – and here Abraham hooks the back of his shirt over his head while keeping his arms in the sleeves.
Falco: “Sure. Shirt on, everyone’s thinking – ‘look at that fucking skinny guy. In a baggy shirt.”
Abraham: “I took my shirt off the first time in 2006, at a show in Texas. My friend, who’s into bears, told me I’d look good with it off. I’ve kind of never looked back.”
Tonight, it comes off five minutes into the set. Later, though – when Abraham is lingering around after the set, thanking people, doling out hugs to anyone that seems remotely interested – the shirt, now covered in fans’ sweat, reappears.