There are few bands who can wait 14 years between releasing their finest album and hitting the road for a world tour to promote it, but Refused heads up that short list.
The Swedish hardcore band, who dissolved as a group after releasing 1998’s genre-defining masterpiece The Shape Of Punk To Come, took well over a decade to bring that performance to Texas, but the thousands crowding the Fun Fun Fun Fest Black Stage on Saturday night were as excited about it as if they had just heard “New Noise” on MTV2 for the first time.
Refused’s set at Fun Fun Fun Fest was a reminder of what the band initially promised — that this could be the shape of punk to come.
For the band’s second Texas show ever (the first, in Houston, occurred in 1996), the set was more or less wish-fulfillment for the fans for whom The Shape Of Punk To Come has become something of a mythical object. It’s a touchstone that countless lesser bands imitated, taking all of the wrong lessons — mimicking the quiet-loud dynamics without understanding their purpose — and which, ultimately, never lived up to its name.
People who wanted to hear a band that sounded like Refused live over the past 14 years got screamo instead, until this tour, which Saturday night meant that they were instead greeted with the title track of the band’s final album, anthems like “The Refused Party Program,” and beloved sing-alongs like “Liberation Frequency.” And that was just the first three songs.
So what was it like to be there? Fucking nuts, really. The album came out in 1998, which means that many of the fans were in their 30s, or older, but unlike the legacy act punk bands who return every two years to play the hits, this was something everyone had been waiting over a decade to hear.
The result included sing-alongs that dwarfed those of, say, Run-DMC (the previous night’s headliner); the roar of “We want the airwaves back!” during “Liberation Frequency” made it sound like the audience were mic’d.
Men and women in their 30s pogoed up and down and jumped on each other’s backs, losing their shit the way they’d planned to when they first heard The Shape Of Punk To Come (songs like “Coup D’etat” and “Rather Be Dead” from the band’s previous album, Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent, appeared midway through the set, as well).
For a weird hour, it felt like someone had frozen the band, and its fans, in amber and let them loose. Singer Dennis Lyxzén joked about how their pants are too tight now that they’re old, but by the end, he’d unbuttoned his shirt and was showing off his abs.
It was more than a fitting tribute to an album that shaped a decade’s worth of heavy and punk-influenced music (genres like screamo and metalcore owe much of their existence to Refused, and bands ranging from Paramore to Anthrax to the Dillinger Escape Plan cite them as an influence). Refused’s set at Fun Fun Fun Fest was a reminder of what the band initially promised — that this could be the shape of punk to come.
Refused’s sound was never all-heavy, all-the-time, favoring atmosphere, nuance and dynamics. But while most of the bands who aped that approach used those things as a cipher, Refused gave equal weight to the dramatic potential of their quiet moments. For so many bands that followed, the sing-to-scream, whisper-to-shout, atmosphere-to-explosions dynamics were a feint.
Refused lived in the quiet moments, and the loud ones. To close the set on Saturday night, the band wound down with their biggest hit, “New Noise,” a distillation of everything that made the band so essential and so fondly remembered — big rock and roll guitar solos, big screams, lived-in quiet moments — before closing with “Tannhauser/Derive,” an eight-minute epic that offered the extended proof of it.
If The Shape Of Punk To Come wasn’t, Refused’s set at Fun Fun Fun Fest was a reminder that it still could be.