Poetry Written in Gasoline: Refused @ The Glass House 04.12
Refused are fucking dead. The self-proclaimed “socialist fag-loving pc scumbags” quietly imploded on October 27, 1998, announcing their demise on the very day their final album, The Shape of Punk to Come, was released. That was 14 years ago, and if the adult me told the younger me that we would be seeing one of the most influential unsung hardcore bands of all time live, I would have replied simply, “You demand the impossible.”
Yet the impossible has somehow become very possible, as Refused has reformed to play a barrage of shows in 2012 to give their final album its due. Their first show in North America in over 14 years took place at the Glass House in Pomona, California on April 12 with your humble narrator in attendance. I didn’t really know what to expect, but one thing I did know: boredom wouldn’t get me tonight.
Hailing from Umea, a small frigid town in northern Sweden, Refused started out as an unremarkable straight-edge hardcore band who slowly evolved into a metalcore band in the vein of the mid-‘90s Victory Records’ house sound (albeit a cut above their label mates). Something special happened in the interim between, Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, and the band’s final masterpiece, The Shape of Punk to Come.
Refused had outgrown their genre roots and blossomed into a new kind of beast, recording a punk album to which the world had never seen. Blending hardcore, metal, jazz and electronic influences with leftist politics, beat poetry and a call to arms, The Shape of Punk to Come is 55 relentless minutes of audio revolution––Art as a real threat.
The anticipation was palpable in the room as Refused took the stage, opening with the title track from The Shape of Punk to Come; my fears that somehow the band would sound unpracticed or uninspired were quickly put to rest. The band was alive with energy as if the electricity from the crowd was feeding the very speakers from which the fury of guitars, bass and drums descended. Speaking few words between songs, the Swedish rockers looked surprisingly young and spry, seemingly ageless, like black-clad communist vampires.
They effortlessly made their way through most of The Shape of Punk to Come, reviving songs like “Deadly Rhythm,” ”Summerholidays Vs Punkroutine,” “Liberation Frequency,” and “Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull” before making their way through old classics like “Coup D’état” and “Rather be Dead.”
At one point in the show, singer Dennis Lyxzen announced in a strong accent, “This song goes out to all the old hardcore kids,” before going into one of their earliest songs, “Circle Pit”. When the band finally got to their trademark song, “New Noise,” the crowd exploded into a sweating riot pushing in unison towards the stage. Old hardcore kids, indeed.
I left the show smiling and satisfied. I had seen one of my favorite bands that I never dreamed I would ever see live. Punk rock wish fulfillment. The impossible had happened––the shitty band with an awesome plan had returned to the U.S.A. Was this return at odds with the band’s politics? Perhaps. But as Refused themselves had stated, “We dance to all the wrong songs.
We enjoy all the wrong moves.” Had their “New Noise” become the very thing they rallied against? If that was the case, on this night 14 long years after proclaiming those words, we were still dancing to all those wrong songs.
So where do we go from here? Just about anywhere. Disoriented but alive… Refused are fucking dead, long live the fucking Refused.
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