Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The Warfield, San Francisco
Better than: Listening to metal at Ikea.
For the uninitiated amongst you, know this: Refused changed everything. For this writer, it was sitting in a living room in the North of England in 1999 with 10 people in tiny punk rock bands and discussing, in depth, how this band was the future. How this band of Swedish politicos was unlike anything we'd ever heard before; about how this band would revolutionize punk rock as a genre. And Refused did that.
But Refused also broke up three days into a U.S. tour in 1998, so very few of their near-obsessive fans ever got to see them. It was a scratch that never got itched. Which is why tonight's show sold out in three minutes. It's also why, by the end of the opening band tonight, there is gridlock in the sizeable foyer of The Warfield that is so extreme it's actually a bit scary. Frontman Denis Lyxen notes during Refused's set tonight: "It took us 14 years to get here... It was worth the wait." And he's not wrong.
It's only right then, that a band as incendiary as The Bronx should be opening tonight's proceedings. The Bronx are, without doubt, one of the finest punk rock bands in existence today. And tonight -- as always -- they hit the stage full force. And, frankly, they sound like sex. Rough, angry, sweaty, dirty, hot, mother-flippin' sex. Frontman Matt Caughthran wails like a man at war, and songs like "Shitty Future," "Heart Attack American," and "They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)" are utterly cathartic on a level that can't fail to get this crowd appropriately enthused.
Next up are The Hives: fellow countrymen of Refused and a band that did well in the early 2000s and then unceremoniously disappeared. Tonight, it's easy to remember why they had that period of unabashed success here. They hit the stage in top hats and tails, crying "C'mon! C'mon! C'mon!" and indulging in the faux-arrogance that made them so damn entertaining the first time around. Frontman Pele Almqvist is hilarious (and demanding) from start to finish, and their set of uber-energetic punk rock 'n' roll is nothing but a good time.
Then the wait begins. Thirty minutes of doomy atmospheric music plays over the P.A. A curtain drops with enough transparent parts that the crowd is able to see that Refused is on stage and readying themselves. After a decade and a half, the anticipation is almost unbearable. But when that curtain finally drops, this audience is faced with everything it's been waiting for. Refused are not fucking dead -- and here they are to prove it.
The band opens with "Faculties of the Skull" and a sea of raised fists, and sense of relief follows. They are not going to disappoint us. Lyxen is everything we all hoped he would be: angry, passionate, energetic. The band is everything we wanted it to be, too: flawless, powerful, with a depth that is almost incomprehensible and a weight that's on Jurassic Park T-Rex levels. "Liberation Frequency" follows with its demand to take "the airwaves back," and the members of the crowd sing it out like their lives depend on it.