SILVER SPRING, July 30, 2012 – In October of 1998 Refused, one of Sweden’s premier punk rock bands, released the album The Shape of Punk to Come which eventually became one of the most important and influential releases in the hardcore/punk community.
Still the album did not really click with audiences at its initial release. The reception the band received during their long ago US tour echoed the growing tensions within the band and right around the time their seminal album was released, the band broke up.
At one point during their set in Silver Spring, front man Dennis Lyxzén commented on the reaction of the Fillmore crowd, saying how this might have saved the band 14 years ago if the response to their closing tour had been as positive.
He then slightly corrected himself noting that if they had, they wouldn’t be performing at the Fillmore.
He’s right about that of course.
Part of what’s made this reunion so successful is their legend as it were, has grown considerably in the 14 years since the band broke up. The Shape of Punk to Come gained steam in certain circles before garnering wider recognition. All of this happened while the band very strongly denied any and all requests or implications they might be reforming.
Instead this just gave their legend a new momentum to the point where it reached an absolute frenzy some fourteen years later.
If they were so adamant against doing exactly what they’re doing now – and this has upset certain people and how the band’s ideology is interpreted – why bring the band out of the closet after all these years?
The simplest answer is essentially, things change. Each band member felt like they were in the right place for something like this to work and 14 years is a long enough time for any person’s perspective to shift. In 1998, Refused as a band seemed to have run its course, but they never did get a chance to properly play the songs of The Shape of Punk to Come.
Simply, it was time to properly give that album its due after all these years.
Refused didn’t necessarily play the album in its entirety. That would require them to play the techno “instrumental” “Bruitist Pome #5,” but they threw out all the stops in covering every inch and corner of the album proper. They even threw in such fan favorites from outside of the album like “Rather Be Dead,” “Coup d’état,” and “Circle Pit.”
As fun and crucial to the Refused ideology as those songs were, the Filmore show was all about The Shape of Punk to Come. Refused has always been a politically and socially conscious minded band, but their ’98 album put their ideology and iconography. Even if there’s disagreement on whether the album really changed the punk/hardcore landscape – and there is – it changed the way the band viewed music and how the punk/rock scene viewed the group
The album and the songs on it are truly something different and ambitious, putting together every dissonant idea the band had and collecting it into a cohesive whole.
It is an amazing set of circumstances the band wanted to play the record at all, but do the songs hold up today, more than a decade later? Would this band, made up of late 30 year olds, be able to capture the energy they had in the mid-20s when they originally wrote this material?
One thing in their favor is the societal, economical, and political landscape they sung in protest of back in the late ‘90s hasn’t change all that dramatically from their perspective and it’s still something they feel passionate about. There are some crucial technical aspects to Refused’s sound especially on the final album, but those studio tricks do not mean anything without the band putting all their energy behind it and they can’t do that if they don’t believe what they’re playing.
Most of the crowd wasn’t around the last time Refused made a trip to the States and even those who were probably never got a chance to see the band on their disconnected last tour anyway. So in all likelihood this was a new experience for everyone on the floor as well as being a new experience for Refused too.
It’s easy to read the press clippings that have come out in the last 14 years about how great and underappreciated a band like Refused is, and they could even believe it – which is unlikely because for all their high minded pretentions, they are generally humble – but it doesn’t quite connect until the audience essentially floored the band with enthusiasm.
At several times during their set Lyxzén, as the band’s mouthpiece, was noticeably taken back by the reaction they were getting and seemed legitimately flustered trying to communicate when he stopped screaming between songs.
This all came to a head when Refused came out for their encore to play “The Shape of Punk to Come,” using the intro nicely to create an anxiousness among the audience. After that everything just exploded.
This reached an even higher decibel several minutes later when the band performed their ideological summation “New Noise” which for all intents and purposes capped off the night.
They closed off the night finishing off The Shape of Punk to Come somewhat surprisingly playing the sometimes ignored final two tracks on the album, but by that point it was just tying up loose ends.
Going to see a band like Refused is an experience all on its own. The band, by just existing at this point, has turned into a spectacle and no matter how they played, most of the crowd would’ve been content saying “I got to see Refused” with starry eyes.
The fact that they matched reputation with unbridled sonic force just enhanced the legend that Refused has become and made every fan who has stuck by them and waited patiently for the band’s intense live show feel total vindication.
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