Refused Blend Politics and Hardcore Punk in Pomona
The Glass House
As a warm-up on their way to Coachella 2012, Refused stopped by the Glass House in Pomona for a semi-secret show.
Four years later, the Swedish legends graced the very same stage, although under entirely different circumstances.
This time around, everyone's favorite punks from Umeå weren't reuniting for the first time in 14 years. They weren't coming back from being "fucking dead," and they had a brand new record to support after a few years spent on the road and in the studio.
Opening the set with the band's first single of the 21st century, "Elektra," followed by the title track of their 1998 masterpiece, The Shape of Punk to Come, it seemed to take a few minutes for much of the crowd to get in gear. While the fans at last year's packed show at the Observatory were rabid from the first chord, only about a quarter of the comfortably full Glass House seemed truly into the first few songs of the set. Wearing collared shirts - including singer Dennis Lyxzén's firetruck red suit - it seemed as though Refused might be all dressed up with nowhere to go.
But after a few songs, Lyxzén took a break from his signature screaming to discuss how much playing in Pomona again means to the band and explaining that they've been drawing from American culture since they were young. But while America might still be the global leader in music and culture, Refused are about as big on Donald Trump as would be expected.
"What goes on now, we are not impressed," Lyxzén said. "But then, you got Bernie Sanders. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy."
After cracking a joke about Sanders being mediocre on anarchist standards but a good fit for America, Lyxzén finally let his slightly uncomfortable bandmates get back to doing what they do best by launching into "Rather Be Dead" off of the aptly named Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. Who would've thought the title of a 20-year-old record would be appropriate to follow an anti-Trump speech?
Though the fans predictably didn't appreciate the new material as much, Refused danced, screamed, ran and leapt through tracks off of last year's Freedom like "Dawkins Christ" and "366." Even for the fans who didn't know the newer songs, the sheer musicianship and energy coming off of the stage was enough to keep the bulk of the diverse crowd engaged as they waited for the handful of tunes they actually knew.
The second half of the set picked up after an extended faux-radio introduction to "Liberation Frequency" before going back to the most recent record for "Thought is Blood." Considering the 17-year gap between records, Refused fans should just be thankful that Freedom still sounds like the same angry young anarchists rather than trying to change with the times. If you didn't know anything by the band (or for the large portion of the audience that only seemed to know one song), it'd be tough to tell which songs were the new ones without seeing the crowd reaction.
Lyxzén paused the set once again to discuss whether he'd go back in time to when he was 20 and able to perform the entire show again as one fan had requested (he ultimately decided he wouldn't because he "was a shitty person" back then). The monologue then continued into reminiscing over the first time Lyxzén saw early Rage Against the Machine and kept screaming at Zack de la Rocha to play Inside Out (his former band, not the animated movie) songs. All these years later, the Swede is now the one being yelled impossible song requests from fans.
It was then that Lyxzén dropped the most important lesson that Refused can teach people. Almost two decades after writing his now-infamous "Refused Are Fucking Dead" manifesto, Lyxzén is in on the joke the band's fantastic breakup has become. "It's OK to change your mind," Lyxzén said. "When you're a human being, you say a lot of dumb shit."
Of course, that brought about the song version of "Refused Are Fuckin' Dead" and then "Servants of Death." The original set closed with "Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull," complete with the full version of one of the greatest album/song intros of all time.
The encore began right where the main set left off with "Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine" and then Lyxzén's final speech of the night, this one about the culture of violence and sexism in America. "Guys, get your shit together," the singer pleaded to the mostly male crowd.
With the final lesson of the night complete, it was time for Refused to turn the Glass House into their own personal madhouse. From the first note of "New Noise," roughly 40 percent of the venue's floor turned into a circle pit, and few members of the rest of the audience remained still or silent.
Rather than closing the set on the obvious note, Refused treated their faithful fans to one more track, blasting out "Tannhäuser / Derivè" before bowing out to a huge round of applause and cheers.
- In both last year's show at the Observatory and Saturday's, a fan had to be tackled to the ground, restrained, and carried out by security. Was it the same guy? What kind of asshole do you have to be to get thrown out of a hardcore punk show?
- "New Noise" is one of the most amazing live songs I've ever seen. Maybe it's the energy, maybe it's the fake live part in the studio recording, maybe it's just a great tune performed by a great band, but there's something about it that stands out in my mind from every other song/show. Also, when's the last time Dennis Lyxzén actually had to yell "Can I scream?" as the first line? Surely not since 1998.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.