Refused - Live in Minneapolis (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Minneapolis (2020)

live show

There’s a middle-aged woman onstage, uninvited, dancing with Bohemian abandon to the testosterone-infused riffs of “I Wanna Watch the World Burn.” An uncharacteristically diverse confluence bounces up and down, side to side, facing the stage. No annular laps. No capoeira. Nary a stagedive. It’s not mild, but it’s not “Pump the Brakes.” It’s not “Hate Breeds Hate.” It is--as I understand, though I’ve rarely witnessed--what happens when a successful hardcore band becomes a successful hard rock band. Geeks and gamers, industrial goths, metalheads, and a pair of Canadians (one in a Propagandhi shirt) chugging beers and screaming every’s a dynamic collective. But its identity is diffuse. Perhaps the only commonality is the draw of Refused.

This paradox radiates from the stage in concentric circles.

Local collective conscience is still tender from surrendering a week’s pay to nosebleed seats for Rage Against the Machine’s reunion tour at the Target Center. Two weeks later, in rolls Refused, led by the charismatic Dennis Lyxzén, a frontman coincidentally once considered by Rage to fill the void after Zack de la Rocha’s departure. Their aims are similar: destroy capitalism, overthrow the system, unite in revolution. All the paradoxes are there too.

The location: a swanky downtown nightclub marauding when expedient as a “music cafe.” The sponsors: local conglomerate-operated buttrock station 93X and a beer company. The tickets: $30-some for GA plus inconvenience fees by eTix. Comfy balcony seats for a little surcharge. Can I scream?

But it’s easy to be reactionary. For many, it’s a default response. It’s the critical thinking that takes work, developing self-awareness that one’s own understanding isn’t necessarily all there is to be understood. Maybe touring is more expensive these days. Maybe the band redistributes ticket sales fairly with openers. Maybe it’s the price of success. Maybe there will never be another Fugazi, maybe it’s an unfair standard for mere mortals.

And for the rest of us mere mortals, led through life by tuggs of pleasure and escapes from pain, we can justify looking past these paradoxes and accepting that which is unchangeable in exchange for something real: the opportunity to see Refused. Not as a hologram. Not as a video game. Live, in the flesh, a band I thought I’d never see, a ten-minute walk from my house.

Touring with them, another band I thought I’d never see: Racetraitor. A decade back, I’d purchased their entire discography on a whim of intrigue alone, knowing I’d missed their heyday, having broken up in ‘99. In between college exams and writing assignments of greater consequence, I’d cobbled together a hastily-researched review of their Burn the Idol of the White Messiah in 2008 that failed to identify the nuance of the band’s own racial makeup. I was instead chiefly concerned with their message and the cacophonous metalcore compositions therein. Having returned to the fold in 2016, some fifteen years after their breakup, they proved a proficient opener for Refused, foreshadowing stylistically and politically the shape of things to come.

To a lesser degree, the industrial hardcore duo Youth Code did too. Like the occasional blips and bleeps of The New Noise Theology, Youth Code’s heavily (singularly?) electronic compositions still managed to instigate headbanging and throat-searing scream-a-longs. What the duo lacked in a full-fledged ensemble, they made up in movement, as lead vocalist Sara Taylor pogo’d ‘round the stage to a noisy electronic backdrop, like Suicide on steroids or maybe M.I.A. sampling Suicide, also on steroids. It’s a sound that, while a racket no doubt, never fills much space, perhaps making them the ideal opener for a band of such contrasting fullness as the now five-piece Refused.

As the lights dimmed for Refused, a pre-recorded audio clip played through the speakers, building well-choreographed tension that erupted into “Blood Red” from the band’s late 2019 offering War Music. Any skepticism I’d reserved for a long-running (legendary?) band to open with a new song was quickly superseded. The crowd wasn’t just loving that Refused was finally onstage, they were loving this song. This silly, histrionic hard rock song, kissed by studio acoustic guitar garnishment and trite Communist imagery. They loved it, and they all sang along. Propagandhi shirt guy included.

“Worms of the Senses” and “Elektra” followed, the latter receiving a recent boost when Corey Taylor of Iowa nu-metal act Slipknot called it “the best song of the decade.” Again, the crowd loved it. And it wasn’t just the new stuff, or that since The Shape of Punk to Come. One of the best reactions came during a two-song dip into 1996’s Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent with barnburners “Rather Be Dead” and “Coup d’etat.” During “Rather Be Dead,” Lyxzén ventured into the audience for a hardcore shout-a-long, which must feel somewhat redeeming as it was the last song the band played (only partly through) when their final show in 1998 was broken up by police in Harrisonberg, Virginia.

My incredulity in the enthusiasm for their new material hit a peak during War Music’s “Malfire,” in which Lyxzén attempts singing rather than shouting or screaming. The audience was apparently unfazed. Classic, genre-defining numbers like “The Shape of Punk to Come” and “New Noise” did seem to elicit the greatest response, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the band subsequently left for a predetermined, pre-encore interval. The crowd thinned mildly, either determined to beat the rush or perhaps fatigued and unwilling to wait out an encore.

Returning onstage, the band cudgeled tightly through “Summerholidays vs Punkroutine” and the incendiary 62-second “It’s Not O.K…” that reignited the flagging fans. In a similar fashion to the set’s start, it closed with another pre-recorded audio clip leading into another new song; this time, the hackneyed “Rev001.” Again, people were into it. The enthusiasm was infectious. Though I stood in solidarity with the singular fan shouting for “Pump the Brakes,” the rock songs were fine. In all fairness, they’re probably what most people came for.

The irony of the situation was as thick as the fog machine-produced haze. Lyxzén’s periodic leftist monologues sounded eerily similar to those from some twenty years ago. But now they’re reaching 500 people instead of a basement of 50. And now we get a light show and professional-grade sound mixing to make the militant rhythm of “Rather Be Dead” form sonic imprints of more robust permanence. We get bathrooms, drinking fountains, venue-provided earplugs. But some of us still secretly ache for the basement.

How do we face this paradox, and who’s to thank and/or blame? Demand-side capitalism? Selling out? Blowing up?...Growing up? Maybe there are no answers. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe the $40 tickets are worth it just to think we’ve escaped capitalism for a few hours, expressing individuality in a violent dance of collective unity, extolling ideas that’ve become too big for a scene. Maybe Refused are dead. Maybe this is all just a really weird dream.