The world is a fucked up place, and this year’s elections and their sad orange clown are certainly confirming this idea. But did the crowd inside the Henry Fonda theater on Friday night need to be reminded about it by Dennis Lyxzén, singer of the Swedish hardcore punk band? Not really, if you attend a Refused concert, you already know about this and you have to be as pissed off about the current situation than Lyxzén in the early 90’s.
I found out I was going to see Refused at the Fonda after a very long day – I had started my day around 4 am – so I was a bit relieved to find out my ticket was one of these seats upstairs in the theater balcony, at least, I will be sitting through the whole thing, but my experience was nothing like those of the people’s downstairs, moshing in the pit. I saw Refused for the first time in 2012 during one of their reunion shows at the FYF fest and it was pure punk energy, unleashed anger, raw power and mayhem everywhere. I barely survived, and It was not different this time, except that, things look much safer a few feet above the chaos.
Before Refused, two bands, Plague Vendor and the Coathanggers open the night. Plaque Vendor, a band from Whittier, California, had a furious throbbing and dark noise, a hard hitting drum and an angry singer, Brandon Blaine. The punk, tall and thin guy was spitting all over the place, and was also a great dancer, shaking his body with a sort of moonwalk à la Michael Jackson, giving a very physical performance. Behind their angry riotous punk songs, behind the sharpness and loudness of the guitars, there also were dark post punk melodies, coupled with a dance-fueled rock aesthetic.
The Coathangers were a female trio from Atlanta, a bit Ramones-y, certainly very aggressive but also very playful, and so bringing a lot of punk fun. They were trading places, alternating on vocals going from cartoon to raucous rage, going fast with abrupt distortion and dynamic shifts, while the whole thing looked wrapped into a carefree attitude, … they even squeezed quaking toys during ‘Squeeki Tiki’. It was weird and entertaining and I must say I love their albums’ titles, ‘Nosebleed Weekend’, or ‘Suck my Shirt’. Their set was as infectious as 3 female reincarnations of Joey Ramone, a riotous bunch that warned us to watch our back.
Refused looked great from my balcony, and Dennis Lyxzén has to be the Mick Jagger of hardcore, thin and elastic, jumping and dancing, kicking the air with his long legs squeezed in thigh red pants, he looked very elegant, something rare for this music genre which often gather bold guys with beards wearing baggy pants. They first blinded the public with a powerful row of yellow lights, roaring through their songs, in pure assault mode, and the effect was very effective and powerful. It was an aggression for the senses and it seemed that Refused wanted to make us uncomfortable, looking more pissed off than ever and still wanting to bend the world with the force of Lyxzén’s scream, Kristofer Steen’s metal guitar riffs, David Sandström’s massive drumming and Magnus Flagge’s loud bass.
Lyxzén and his bandmates are still angry, and shouldn’t they be angrier than ever because of the current state of American politics? Surely, and without even pronouncing Trump’s name, Lyxzén let us know what he thought with a few monologues between the songs. ‘Look what is happening to your country,… We are not impressed! It does not look good!’ Did I need a guy who writes politically engaged and far-left anti-capitalism lyrics to know that the political climate of our country is going straight to the shithole? Not really, but it was great he said it with such force and vehemence. After 3 decades, Refused is still telling us that music is the last refuge when you realize how fucked up the world is and Lyxzén still believes that music should be nothing else than ‘a driving force to change the world’. However, they were preaching to the choir, to the already convinced outsiders go this world, and I was wondering what could really be accomplished knowing which candidate could win these stupid elections.
I don’t think it is possible to express more anger than Refused does, they played as if they were on a never-ending revenge trail, playing one political song after another, animated by ferocious riffs, punk beats, and a constantly jumping frontman, gracefully dancing, punching the air and screaming with rage, and even going in the middle of the crowd. They were keeping us on constant alert with their muscular and destructive riffs, their outbursts of furor. Lyxzén also told us how grateful he was to still have this public keeping them alive and able to do what they still want to do, before smashing the place with another hardcore number. They picked old songs and new ones from their last release ‘Freedom’, their first album in 17 years, and despite my failure to identify the songs (and I couldn’t spot any setlist!) ‘Elektra’ was certainly a powerful one during the encore.
Sitting above the chaos and the tempest, I finally heard Lyxzén telling us to destroy patriarchy and capitalism, and it was the most powerful line of the night, powerfully resonating in a country, where half of the people prepare themselves to vote for a candidate who completely embodies the system Refused has been railing against for decades.
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