It’s no small thing to recapture a moment, and even harder to throw it away afterward. Yet as the unlikely 2012 reunion of Refused races to an explosive finish, the Swedish hardcore act is somehow managing both. Monday night at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, the quintet performed what was probably their last-ever United States gig, and they drilled into it with as much wild, raging abandon as a brand new punk band.
Singer Dennis Lyxzén was in motion for the entire 80-minute set: leaping into the air, twirling his microphone by the cord, shouting the excited words to “Refused Are Fucking Dead”: “Can I get a witness?/ This I gotta see/ Bring it in, bring it in, bring it in/ One more time for me!”
The band’s last U.S. tour in 1998 ended in disaster, with the radical political band breaking up after just three days on the road and remaining silent for 14 years afterward. Their recent reunion began with an invitation to play this year’s Coachella Festival and has continued since, but there are no plans following a string of dates next month in Sweden. Their final show is set for December 15th in Umea, Sweden, where these fanatic followers of Eighties New York hardcore formed in 1991. The band has granted no interviews since reuniting, but statements on their website leave no doubt that Refused will disband once again, this time without anger.
At the Fonda, Refused raised the curtain to an eerie electronic hum before taking the stage to blow up “The Shape of Punk to Come,” the anthemic title song from the band’s wildly praised but little-heard (at the time) final album. Since its original release on Epitaph Records, the collection of forward-looking punk tracks has become hugely influential to a new generation of fans. Lyxzén sang hungrily, “Take a bite, do a dance and get lost on a crusade/ Jump on this soul train, destination unknown!”
This wasn’t hardcore of the cookie-cutter variety, with chord progressions and haircuts in precise alignment with all other virulent acts. Refused are a band with a distinctive sound and mission, closer in volume and purpose to the likes of Rage Against the Machine. On Monday, with guitarists Jon Brännström and Kristofer Steen thrashing at the edge of the stage, the band roared inside a persistent blanket of fog. Fans surfed the crowd as Lyxzén leapt for a scissor kick during “Liberation Frequency” and the foreboding riffs and intense beats of “Rather Be Dead.” They ended with jagged, sweeping sophistication and power during the set’s two-song encore of “New Noise” and “Tannhäuser.”
Before breaking up the first time, Refused was a highly respected but largely unknown entity, too often playing for tiny crowds of true believers. No more: in Los Angeles last night, the band was in full force for a big, swirling crowd that matched the size of their music and ideas.
“The Shape of Punk to Come”
“Refused Party Program”
“Rather Be Dead”
“Summer Holidays Vs. Punk Routine”
“Hook, Line and Sinker”
“Protest Song 68”
“Refused Are Fucking Dead”
“Life Support Addiction”
“Worms of the Senses”