Let’s just start by giving a big round of applause to everyone who, despite the known presence of secret police in Boston who aim to stop people from having fun, made this night a show to remember. One of the most important Punk tours of the decade no doubt, with a touch of political and social dissent. Spit in the face of authority and let loose.
Starting off the festivities was OFF!, fronted by the legendary Keith Morris, some old balding dreadlocked bastard from bands you’ve never heard of including Black Flag and The Circle Jerks, along with cast-offs from failures like Rocket From The Crypt, Redd Kross, and other stuff no one cares about. All joking aside, this here is a group of seasoned musicians who know what they’re doing. It usually helps your live show when you’re skilled, I hear.
In OFF!’s 45 minute (or hour) long set, I’m pretty sure they actually played almost every song in their two LP/an EP or four discography. This despite the fact that Morris, being an embattled veteran of the Punk scene as well as fairly aged, he’s seen a lot, done a lot, is fed up with a lot, and is unafraid to make a rousing speech the likes of which follower Henry Rollins could have borrowed his style from. These elements come together to make a refreshingly old school sound that’s not dating itself.
Once they hit the stage and began setting up, I was apprehensive as to the energy level, and if my fellow crowd members would be willing to break free of the constraints so flimsily placed by the friendly neighborhood BPD. For the first few songs, there was a curtain of nervousness in the air as Morris and Co. bandied about, letting loose while the audience gazed furtively at itself, hoping that someone would make a move to break the metaphorical ice. It almost goes without saying that high energy Punk Rock goes a long way to bring about the emotional climate for rule-breaking and general not-giving-a-fuck-ness. By the third or fourth song, all pretense was dropped, and the circle pit was it.
In between bombardments by ancient Punk rhythms and seething vitriol, one could catch a glimmer of Morris’ humble nature, and his unwillingness to think himself higher than anyone despite the fact that he’s led a much more interesting life than your average punx. It’s this humility and good nature that leads to fans being able to get pictures and just have a nice chat with the man.
And almost have your face stolen.
About a half an hour before Umeå, Sweden’s own left-wing singer-songwriter gentlemen Refused officially began their set, the crowd began to notice that instead of random rock tunes playing over the stereo as normal, it was some odd low droning ambiance that put a disturbing atmosphere over the venue. It gradually grew louder with every passing minute, and when the time came, the crowd took its position, pointed directly at the stage where a large black curtain was draped over the band as they clandestinely set up. As the drone intensified, it began to resemble a long sustained guitar chord. With time, the ambient sound created a mixture of fear, anticipation, and a sort of battle readiness for the oncoming insanity. Lights over the stage, we realized, were panning ever so slowly down toward the crowd, practcally turning in step with the increasing loudness of the ambiance. As the sound and lights swelled to full realization and the lights overhead dimmed, the crowd could see that the black curtain had REFUSED cut out of it as the light shone through.
The pre-game spectacle seems to be growing into a review of its own, so let’s move on, eh?
The energy from OFF!’s set was great, but as soon as Refused opened with “Worms Of The Senses / Faculties Of The Skull”, the floor became a veritable feeding ground where tooth and claw ruled the scene, and those who could not fight were destroyed in seconds. One thing about this show that was particularly amazing was that not only was everyone into it, but the sheer diversity of people attending who all just got it. There were Metalheads, -Core kids with swoopy hair, old school NxYxHxC looking guys, huge besweatered Hardcore bros with flatbill caps, dyed/bleached punx in leather jackets with skulls on them, you name it. To shout words of protest alongside a smorgasbord of countercultures is truly empowering.
The set was varied enough, considering their discography currently stands at 5 EPs and three LPs. Though I am disappointed that they don’t play anything off This Just Might Be… The Truth (namely “Pump The Brakes”), their most heavy and straightforward release, I feel as though it ultimately wouldn’t mesh well with the material from The Shape Of Punk To Come and Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent, which lean towards a sort of Post-Hardcore/Experimental Rock sound, but have just enough heaviness and hard-hitting aggression to merit their place among the Punk/Hardcore greats of history. From the two-step swing of “Summerholidy vs Punkroutine” to the cannonading lyrical assault of “Refused Are Fucking Dead” (my personal favourite), and the turncoat anthem “Coup D’Etat”, all coupled with vocalist Dennis Lyxzén musing on how prophetic his lyrics of top-down oppression are in hindsight, it was all around a spectacular showcase of how Punk Rock is not just three chords and an angry British or Californian man shouting about the impending police state. Take some notes from the seminal volume Songwriting Tips For Anarchists, by U. Kuhnt, which simply contains the words “OPPRESSORS: FUCK OFF” in large, bold, red print, and listen to some Refused. You’ll be much wiser for it. In the meantime, should Refused repeat this tour, being fully active once again since 1998, and you for any reason missed this, your redemption shall come swift as an assassin’s blade under cover of night.
To whoever lost the shoe pictured at the right, I’m sure it was well worth the small loss. Its silhouette stands out among the appeased horde cheering one of the most important Punk bands of modern times making its return like phoenices from ashes long forgotten, faintly resembling the shape of an axe, which I’ll allow you, the reader, to mark with some obtuse political symbolism. I’m stumped, if you ask me.