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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

Thursday evening saw the return of Swedish punk legends Refused to San Francisco, this time performing at the Great American Music Hall, and not the notably larger Warfield Theatre as they did on their last visit. Perhaps you can only hold people's interest so long, even after a 14-year hiatus, although the night's inspired and frenzied audience indicated otherwise.

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Wax Idols (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

Opening the show were local favorites Wax Idols. Frontwoman Hether Fortune addressed the fact that the band has been quiet for some time, explaining they've been working on new material, had member changes, and been preoccupied with other projects. Perfectly understandable. Their's was a set of icy San Francisco post-punk; jangly 12-string punctuated by stark synth leads and gothic, trembling vocals. After several songs, Hether brought up Refused's 2012 Warfield performance, asking if "anyone remembered the girl in front who punched the bouncer," and revealing that girl to be herself. The incident sparked a friendship between Fortune and Dennis of Refused, his subsequent discovery of Wax Idols, and their current situation opening for Refused.

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Wax Idols (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

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Wax Idols (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

Both the second guitarist and bass player were new additions, and although having only practiced once before the show, the band's set was moving. Fiercely graceful while also delicate, Wax Idols made a great return.

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Wax Idols (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

Supporting Refused on the West Coast leg of their tour, Canadian speed punks White Lung played a concise set featuring metallic, shreddy guitar work, and Mish Way's raspy, shouted vocals. Starting off their set, guitarist Kenneth William dragged his pedals onto the stage by an input cable and laid them out in front of his monitor. Despite their impressive musicianship, the band seemed to only know one hue, and one tempo. If you didn't have prior knowledge of the group, I imagine it would have been impossible to differentiate one song from the next. Regardless, the audience seemed to vibe off of their relentless energy, and several fans even knew the words to every song.

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White Lung (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

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White Lung (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

There was ample time between White Lung and Refused to think about the controversy behind Refused's return to live performance, and their decision to write and record a new album. Their most influential record is entitled The Shape of Punk to Come, and, prophetically so, the record has become coveted and iconic. Its lyrical content deals largely in Marxist philosophy and blatantly anti-capitalist lines like "I've got a bone to pick with capitalism, and a few to break," so when the band returned after 14 years to play Coachella, it gave The Shape of Punk to Come a strange, sad, ironic twist. I quickly came to terms with it in 2012 when I went to see them at the Warfield; I was excited to see the band that wrote this record perform it live. However, it was their performance tonight that really shed light on their decision, and made some sort of explanation for what role Refused might have as a full time band in 2015.

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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

Their set opened with a swelling, cinematic sample a la the THX intro sound, and they broke into new song "Elektra"..= I was thoroughly underwhelmed when I listened to the studio version, but watching them play it live was very entertaining. They then played several songs off The Shape of Punk, and I was struck by how much conviction Dennis imbued every word with, screaming "rather be forgotten, than remembered for giving in" into the faces of 600 people screaming it right back at him.

During "Deadly Rhythm," instead of breaking into the awesome, free jazz interlude near the end of the song, the band instead broke into "Raining Blood" by Slayer. I love the jazz interlude. I was so distraught when they skipped it, that they had eschewed this dynamic part for a purely high octane piece of entertainment. To top it off, Dennis followed the song with an impassioned speech about revolution, proclaiming "we people should finally have a revolution." Just as I was spiraling into despair, though, he paused between another set of songs to explain things.

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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

"We didn't know what to think of ourselves as a band, 14 years since any of us had played on a stage....quite nervous to play Coachella....then we went to San Francisco and played the Warfield....honestly that was the show that we knew that we were back, and then that was the start of us doing what we're doing now, playing more songs and playing new music. Thank you for giving us the confidence to do it again. You are part of the reason we are back...Here's a song called 'Refused are Fucking Dead.'"

Somehow that moment brought it all into perspective for me. Refused were, and are, a group of extremely talented Swedish musicians who knew they had made something worthy of recognition with The Shape of Punk to Come, and when their first tour of the United States was met with small and unenthusiastic crowds, the band became disillusioned. Now, in their middle age, they'd been given an opportunity to play the music they love for an audience, and although some of the message may have been lost, the fun wasn't. The band played an incredible, entertaining, and self-aware set on Thursday night, and I would absolutely see them again.

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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

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Refused (photo: Nikolas Soelter)

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