Onstage at the Warfield last night, Dennis Lyxzén shared with us a glimpse into his thoughts as Refused died in 1998. It was a moment that seems as heavy as a mountain from the outside looking in, and yet from all accounts was precisely the opposite for the band; a weight lifted. In bass player Kristofer Steen’s gut wrenching documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead, the band explains that they viewed the policemen that broke up what would be the band’s final show as liberators more than oppressors. Refused was mortally wounded, creatively and personally, and their death was an inevitability that eventually became more than necessary.
And yet, Dennis earnestly told us all that, for whatever reason, one of the thoughts cycling through his mind as the band began their journey back to Sweden was: “What about San Francisco?”
The band had been due to play for about 40 people in some ramshackle gig in San Francisco later in the tour that imploded after just a few shows, and at the time he found that one the hardest to let go of.
And last night, Lyxzén stood on stage at the Warfield, a 2,250 capacity venue. Every last ticket had been sold within minutes of going on sale. Everyone, from the high school kids dropped off by Mom, to the jaded rock journalists in the photo pit, were shivering with unbridled anticipation. And he told us that the band’s arrival in San Francisco, 14 years behind schedule, was worth the wait.
Last weekend we were up front against the guardrail to see Refused perform, with our own senses for the first time ever, at Coachella. They had to be nothing less than amazing just to live up to the legend, and they were. But it lacked the intimacy, passion, and sheer force of 2,000 people shoulder to shoulder in a small theater, preparing for the onslaught by discussing which body parts they were ready to surrender if it meant they’d get to see Refused perform just once.
Refused, quite simply, are the fucking Beatles of hardcore music. Their songwriting is consistently flawless, and they’ve influenced almost every single band to touch the genre since they left it, indirectly when not shamelessly directly. Jon Brännström & Kristofer Steen’s precise tag-team guitar style defined hardcore string virtuosity. The Refused rhythm section set them apart from their peers, and Dennis Lyxzén’s primal scream is one of the fiercest the genre has ever known.
The event’s lineup was a perfect fantasy, become reality. If there is only one hardcore band that has moved us as much as Refused did, it’s LA’s The Bronx, who opened the show with a crushing performance that found frontman Matt Caughthran in the middle of the pit’s flailing mayhem almost as much as onstage. Opening for Refused puts them precisely in the middle of their target audience, and we hope that every single attendee took their name down.
The Bronx were followed by The Hives, old friends and stagemates of Refused, going back to 1994. The Hives are a tenacious bunch, still around after some heavy mainstream-ish buzz came and went during the garage rock craze led by Jack White and The Strokes in the early 2000s. But they had been around for many years before, and are unfazed today, with a triumphant performance at Coachella and a new album on the way.
They’ve put in the time, proved themselves, and have mastered their showcraft. Frontman Pelle Almqvist is an artfully obnoxious presence, forcibly coaxing every last niche of the crowd into his sweaty palm.
Refused’s set was relentless. The bulk of it came from the band’s final and most beloved album, The Shape Of Punk To Come, but several standout tracks from their earlier, rawer albums were mixed in. OG Hardcore anthem Circle Pit was not performed, but several of its peers that have aged better filled its role just fine. The Slayer from Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent was played for the first time since the band’s reunion, along with the war cry Coup D’état, one of my personal favorite songs of all time.
We also got Everlasting, and the state of the pit from the moment Lyxzén announced that the band would be playing Rather Be Dead to the moment any note was actually played was a state of perpetual explosion, with nearly the entire pit running and shoving and losing 100% of its collective shit in excitement. The pit was fucking apeshit crazy, to silence. I’ve seen Nine Inch Nails crowds more composed at the peak of March Of The Pigs. And tamer Slayer pits as the opening riff of Raining Blood kicked in. I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like what went down at the Warfield last night.
The band closed with a sprawling brick-by-brick demolition to the tune of Tannhäuser / Derivè, with giant hissing plumes of steam (actually CO2) perfectly punctuating the chorus. It was not just a visual complement, but an audible one as well, and felt exactly like the music was causing the venue to overload its power generators and combust. At the end, Dennis called us to action. He said the songs that the band wrote in the 1990s talked about a fucked up world that they barely understood, and yet today the lyrics are just as, or perhaps even more relevant. He told us that no one person would fix everything, that it was up to us, to “stay wild, stay true.” The burning, passionate rage in his voice was electric. He said that boredom would not get us.
Worms Of The Senses / Faculties Of The Skull
The Refused Party Program
Rather Be Dead
Summerholidays Vs. Punkroutine
Hook, Line, And Sinker
The Deadly Rhythm
Refused Are Fucking Dead
The Shape Of Punk To Come
Tannhäuser / Derivè