Refused / OFF! Sound Academy, Toronto ON July 22

Refused / OFF! Sound Academy, Toronto ON July 22
Contrast Refused's final gig before splitting up in 1998 -- a basement gig in Virginia cut short by the cops -- with the Swedish hardcore band's first-ever appearance in Toronto, playing a two-night stand at the sprawling Sound Academy as part of their current reunion tour, and it's plain to see the title of their swan song, The Shape of Punk to Come, was prophetic. The 14 years since its release allowed the punk community to catch up and clue in, ensuring the group's Sunday night appearance would be the culmination of years of waiting from eager fans.

But openers OFF! were more of a throwback to the band's get-in-the-van, basement gig past -- not that there's anything wrong with that. Refused's lead singer Dennis Lyxzén recalled covering Black Flag and Circle Jerks tracks in his first punk band when he was 15. Despite scoring regular opening slots in large venues, OFF!'s sound remains rooted in the '80s hardcore lead singer Keith Morris helped pioneer. They blasted through tracks from their string of releases, with Morris lecturing the crowd about American politics with mixed results. While he looked his age, with long dreads doubling as a combover for a bald spot, Morris and the band sounded as raw and youthful as ever.

After OFF!'s rough and ready delivery, the ambient music that soundtracked Refused's stage setup was an odd choice, but as the venue's lights were slowly dimmed in the lead-up to the band's set, the music became noisier and the stage's backlighting revealed the group's name on the giant black curtain blocking the stage, bringing the crowd to a fever pitch in anticipation.

As the curtain dropped, the group -- singer Lyxzén, guitarists Kristofer Steen and Jon Brännström, bass player Magnus Flagge, and drummer David Sandström -- wasted no time, launching into "Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull" then quickly transitioned into "The Refused Party Program." Decked out in a three-piece suit, Lyxzën looked like the rock star we always knew he was, swinging his mic high in the air Roger Daltrey style, amidst the plumes of smoke that filled out the band's sparse setup. Their set leaned heavy on The Shape of Punk to Come, but they did dive a little further back in the catalogue for "Rather Be Dead."

Lyxzën wore a huge grin on his face for most of the set and openly discussed some of the pros and cons of getting the band back together (pro: the lyrics are more apt than ever; con: his pants are much tighter than they used to be). The band played with precision and passion, as the crowd fed of their energy and vice versa.

"Refused Are Fuckin Dead" and "The Shape of Punk to Come" were clear set highlights, but their encore performance of "New Noise" will go down as one of the all-time greatest. Retaking the stage and playing the song's epic intro note for note, the crowd swelled as Lyxzën grabbed the mic, beckoning the audience to join him as he asked, "Can I scream?" the entire building singing in unison (the implied answer was a resounding, "Yes").

Refused finished with the epic "Tannhäuser/Derivè," with Lyxzën reminding the audience to "stay curious, stay wild and stay hungry" before finishing the song, screaming, "Boredom won't get me tonight." An apt conclusion to an epic set.

To see Exclaim!'s Refused photo gallery, courtesy of Fil ZuZarte, head here.