Show Review: Refused @ The Sinclair 6.1.15

by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published June 5th 2015

photos by (Ben Stas)

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Of all the beloved and disbanded acts of the 1990s, Refused were among the last anyone expected to mount a reunion. The Coachella billings and shows at the nation’s Terminal 5s and Houses of Blues in 2012 struck many as antithetical to the band’s sternly anti-capitalist convictions during their original 1991-1998 run. The enthusiastically ferocious nature of the performances themselves went some way towards discrediting the whole thing as a cash-grab, but there was still no hint of any further creative action from the group. Three years later, they’ve finally confirmed the release of Freedom, their first studio recording in 17 years, and announced a club tour to go with it. Monday night’s show at The Sinclair thus offered a first glimpse of Refused as a properly reactivated band.

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The Cambridge venue presented cozier confines than 2012’s House of Blues show, and felt more befitting of the band’s punk roots than Lansdowne Street’s corporate behemoth. Much like OFF! did back then, War on Women offered up the perfect opening set on Monday with a dose of straight-up, pointedly political and totally furious hardcore, centered on a wild-eyed performance from vocalist Shawna Potter. Chrome Over Brass’ dramatically lit 20 minute drum solo proved less engaging as the night’s kick-off, but points for something different.

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Refused took the stage at a quarter after 10 to the strains of Freedom’s divisive lead single “Elektra,” bursting out of the gate with the sort of unrestrained energy that effortlessly channeled their two-decades-past selves. Vocalist Dennis Lyxzén spent the duration of the song and all those that followed bouncing off the stage, the monitors and any other available surface. He was a kinetic punk rock Jarvis Cocker, commanding the stage with a singular combination of hip thrusts, dance moves and flying leaps amid his shrieked revolutionary screeds. Lyxzén is one of the great vocalists and frontmen of the last several decades in hardcore or any other genre, and it doesn’t take the lion’s share of a Refused gig to be reminded of that fact.

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His bandmates, including new touring guitarist Mattias Bärjed performing in the departed Jon Brännström’s stead, brought the noise, translating the ambitiously progressive post-hardcore that characterizes their most beloved work into a somewhat looser, rawer sound. Cuts from 1998’s landmark The Shape of Punk to Come, which composed more than half of the set, stuck a bit less rigidly to their recorded versions than the 2012 renditions and gave the set a sense of urgency that was bolstered by a handful of new songs. Fears that the band’s new release will tarnish their legacy were allayed, at least for the time being, with performances of the aforementioned “Elektra,” “Françafrique” and “Dawkins Christ” that sounded right at home alongside the time-tested classics.

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Refused never minced words, especially concerning their own demise, and they aren’t going to start now. Lyxzén’s one passage of extended stage banter all night set 2012’s Boston gig as the night the band decided that its cause might be worth pursuing on a full-time basis once more, if they still had something to say. In their 40s, he said, they felt no less like outsiders than they had two decades earlier, and it’s that spirit that keeps the band sounding vital in 2015. Fucking dead? Far from it.

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