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Review Sat Jul 28 2012
Wednesday night I had two dreams about Refused. In the first, they played a short listless set to a 1/10th full Congress Theater. In the other, I drove around Hollywood Hills looking for the show for virtually hours before being told it'd been cancelled. Neither scenario was anything close to my prior experience with Refused live, but I still spent much of Thursday unsure about the evening's show. Questions popped into my head. Would the band be tired on the last date of a US tour? Would it be empty?
First and foremost, the Congress' forthcoming renovation needs to include air conditioning. The heat and humidity were brutal. 4,000 bodies (so much for it being empty) didn't make it better. By the time Refused went on, it was like a sauna. Yet it really didn't seem to affect the energy in the room, at first. A surge of fans plowed toward the front, fists were pumped and lyrics screamed. Frontman Dennis Lyxzén took it all in while bouncing around the stage on adrenaline. For a hardcore punk band, even one that's legitimately seminal, Refused's music has a complexity that doesn't exactly lend itself to guitarists jumping from amplifier stacks. That's where Lyxzén picked up the slack; stacking and climbing atop stage monitors to jump at an opportune moment, mimicking Iggy Pop's iconic crowd walk, creatively abusing microphones, etc. He fed off the crowd through highlights like "Rather Be Dead" and "Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine" before the momentum dipped. Strangely, even a digression for Black Flag's "Police Story" and "Nervous Breakdown" (with opener Off!'s Keith Morris, of course) didn't really stimulate the crowd. Lyxzén then remarked that the next song was called "Refused Are Fucking Dead" ... of heatstroke.
Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come album was released in 1998. They disbanded soon afterward and have recently reunited for some shows. At a time when band reunions are met with indifference and the typical fan thinks it's all about a cash grab, Refused has made it a point to say, "This means something." As Lyxzén pointed out early Thursday (repeated almost word-for-word from when I saw them in May), their politically-charged non-conformist lyrics were meant to be cynical in 1998 and are accurate now. His pep talk at the end of the show about life not being a rehearsal and the band's gratefulness to fans that still care about them came off as genuine and well-intentioned. Sure, they're probably making more money now than they did the first time around, but they clearly still understand how to put on a performance. (You certainly can't say that for every band who reunites after a lengthy hiatus.)
To close out the night, the band stepped it up to reinvigorate the crowd. The title track from their 1998 magnum opus was one of the best-sounding songs of the set. Even with a short break, they carried that momentum into an encore that received by far the biggest cheer of the night as they began "New Noise." It's been prominent at sporting events and in television programs, and it did not disappoint. In a curious move, they did not end with their most recognizable song and instead went to the building epic "Tannhäuser / Derivè." It started a little slow, but ended with a bang that had a now shirtless Lyxzén and the rest of the band giving the crowd everything they still had. So much for them being tired.