Photos by Mark Pantoja
Usually I’m not big on hitting up the reunion tours of my favorite bands from years past. I figure if you missed it, well, you missed it, and you’re not going to relive the glory by witnessing the victory lap.
But when I heard that Refused aren’t “fuckin’ dead” any more, I didn’t question for one second that I had to go see their show at the Fox Theater. And they delivered, confirming that they’ve still got the chops and are as fierce as ever.
No, Refused didn’t bring any new material Friday night in Oakland. But that’s okay because, back in their heyday during the late-’90s, they wrote some of the most well-composed songs in hardcore. The band wasted no time proving this point, opening with an inspired take on “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”, one of several songs they played off their masterpiece, 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come.
The best part of seeing the Swedish quartet play those old songs? They’re clearly still loving every note.
This is no mere cash-in tour, and I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was for me to see that. Refused are just as politically motivated as they were back in the day. In fact, this reunion tour seems to be as much about finally reaching people with their message as it is about playing for fans who didn’t get to see them in the past. For a band like Refused, authenticity and integrity are everything, and it’s nice those things are intact. If they weren’t, this reunion would not work.
Singer Dennis Lyxzén delivered the band’s message in a series of stump speeches between songs. “You start a band and you want to change the world. To make songs with meaning and purpose,” he said before dedicating “Rather Be Dead” off 1996’s Songs to Fan The Flames of Discontent to Pussy Riot, the Moscow band recently imprisoned for its “punk prayer” performance at a Russian Orthodox church in protest of President Vladimir Putin’s policies. “It’s amazing to see their music is so threatening they locked them up for what they said. If I got two years every time I talked about religion and government, this tour wouldn’t be happening,” Lyxzén told the crowd.
Of course, the songs delivered the band’s message too. Lyxzén and his mates ripped through all the songs the crowd came to see, including the likes of “The Refused Party Program”, “Liberation Frequency”, “The Shape of Punk to Come”, and “Refused Are Fuckin’ Dead”. Lyxzén explained that “Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine” is about preserving their DIY punk ethics back when the band first met success and began playing at “400 person venues.” The band came back out for an encore and played “New Noise”, sending the crowd into a frenzy. On that track, Lyxzén poses the question, “And how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice?” The Refused’s answer — “We need new noise, new art for the real people” — was amply delivered at the Fox.
Lyxzén says he still believes in the message of these songs and, if anything, he thinks it’s more important today considering the current political and cultural climate. It was hard not to agree. “Don’t let anyone tell you how to think, how to act, or how to fuck,” he said. “If you’re gonna say it, say it loud. If you’re gonna play, play until your fingers bleed. Remember to always stay curious. Always stay hungry.”
Long live Refused.
Not to relegate Sleigh Bells to a footnote, but I always thought their music was all style and no substance, and nothing about their opening set at the Fox changed my mind. Their beats are crazy blown out, but that being said, it’s hard not to like how hard they hit. There were other things I enjoyed about the set, including listening to the duo settle into some really cool grooves with some pretty interesting sounds.
But everything I found interesting about Sleigh Bells’ set was, in fact, in their backing track. Six full half-stacks for two guitarists who sounded like they played the exact same, not-terribly-interesting riffs the whole time? All smoke, little fire. Better to have one little combo amp and put it to use the way Refused does, in my opinion.