Report: Refused, Brisbane 2012Refused
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Sunday 11 November
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are Refused from Umeå, Sweden.“ Nine words that hardcore punk fans thought they’d never hear again.
“When every expression, no matter how radical it is, can be transformed into a commodity and be bought or sold like cheap soda, how is it then possible that you are going to be able to take ‘art’ seriously?” the band asked when they announced their split 14 years ago. “We will never play together again and we will never try to glorify or celebrate what was. All that we have to say has been said here or in our music/manifestos/lyrics and if that is not enough you are not likely to get it anyway.”
That we are here tonight, on a cool November evening at a multi-million-dollar beer barn on the outskirts of Brisbane, suggests that some compromises were reached along the way. Tempers cooled. Values were reconsidered. It’d be quite easy (now) to accuse these five Swedes of hypocrisy: how much money was involved in their run of reformation shows, and how can that sit with their anti-capitalist politics? But hell, they made some good fucking songs in their day, and we’d like to hear them again. That Refused exist in 2012 is a joy to many, as evidenced by the thousand-plus in attendance. (The upstairs balcony is open to underage punters, but there’s only a couple of dozen savvy enough to be here. Convincing your parents to take you to a late gig on a Sunday night is tough.)
Refused's entrance is artful: drone music begins at a low hum while stagehands scuttle around checking instruments. An orange glow can be seen through an enormous black banner hung across the front of stage, while the drone slowly increases in volume. Every pair of eyes in the room is glued to the banner; curiosities are piqued. Suddenly, shapes can be seen moving around on stage. A backing track plays for a couple of bars, then the band hit the first note of ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’—the title track from their classic album of the same name—and the banner drops on cue, revealing the five men. Simple but effective.
They immediately sound fantastic. And that’s all that really matters. The worst thing a reformed band can do is tarnish their legacy, but everything about Refused circa 2012 sounds fresh, vital and impressive. You won’t find disappointment in this room; most fans had resigned themselves to the fact that this band died in 1998. So that they’re here at all is a win, really. (We learn via singer Dennis Lyxzén—in one of his many between-song soliloquies—that the band were booked to play Australia in 1998, shortly before the break-up. “If we were here then, there probably would’ve been about 20 of you,” he wryly notes. “Thanks for coming out en masse.”)
The stage is well-lit throughout. All five members seem to be enjoying themselves. They play most songs from The Shape Of Punk To Come, four from Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent, and one from the Rather Be Dead EP. (They’ve resigned themselves to the same setlist for this final run of shows, it seems. It works well, so why not?) They seamlessly insert a verse and chorus from The Stooges’ ‘TV Eye’ into the middle of ‘The Deadly Rhythm’. Lyxzén pulls focus throughout: he’s a fluid and entertaining dancer, somewhere between Thom Yorke and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. “When we started as a band, one of our missions was to overthrow capitalism,” he tells us after ‘Liberation Frequency’. “It didn't work out as well as we hoped!” A smile from the singer here; signs of a sense of humour and self-awareness. “We're still poking at it.” He touches on how music was a part of the counter-culture movement in the 1950s and 60s, and how that went away a few years ago. He segues this thought into the recent events surrounding Pussy Riot in Russia, noting that “if I got put in prison every time I spoke out against church or government, I'd be in jail for 20,000 years!” He dedicates ‘Rather Be Dead’ to the Russian activists.
The band cap off a remarkable 70 minute set with ‘Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull’. It’s note-perfect, even down to David Sandström’s incredible drum fills. They return for a monstrous rendition of ‘New Noise’ - the ultimate outsider anthem; “We dance to all the wrong songs / we enjoy all the wrong moves / we're not leading!” - and close with ‘Tannhäuser / Derivè’, the longest track in their repertoire. Right before the song ends, the band pause and allow Lyxzén to deliver an uplifting farewell, before the five men take a bow in Brisbane, Australia for the first and last time. It’s worth quoting in full.
“Our old friend Patti Smith said music is meant to liberate, and I think we did that tonight. Don't let anyone tell you how to live your life. This is the only chance we get. Do it 100 per cent. If you’re gonna say something, say it fucking loud, alright? Always remember to stay curious. Always stay fucking wild. Always stay fucking hungry. I know one thing: with friends like you, boredom won’t get me tonight!”
Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok)
Photos: Justin Edwards
Join the conversation below