The last time Swedish hardcore innovators Refused played a show prior to their sudden breakup in 1998 was in a Virginia basement to about 50 people. Since then, the band has taken on a growing number of fans and is currently in the midst of an unexpected reunion tour. Their first show back on American soil was played to a sold-out crowd at Pomona, California’s Glass House on April 12th, with experimental hip hop group Death Grips as support.
With an ominous looping background track leading up to the start of their set, Refused built tension while the audience anxiously awaited this reunion—that many did not expect to ever experience. Dressed in an all-black dress shirt and jacket, frontman Dennis Lyxzén casually walked out to deliver the first lines of “The Shape of Punk to Come” to a roaring crowd as the rest of the band’s original lineup joined him on stage. Not much time was spared before Lyxzén was seemingly getting comfortable in his surroundings, taking full control of the stage and delivering high kicks at any opportunity he could find. For a band that has been disbanded for fourteen years, there seems to have been a lot of pent up raw energy that added to the intensity of the performance.
As expected, the energy of the audience never seemed to slow down. Crowd-surfing and stagediving picked up during songs like “Rather Be Dead” and “Circle Pit,” the latter being accompanied by a shout out from Lyxzén to all the hardcore fans in the audience. Aside from those tracks, the band stuck mostly to playing material from The Shape of Punk to Come, which remains to be their most successful and critically-acclaimed album. During the encore of “Tannhäuser / Derivè”, Lyxzén diverged into a speech about staying curious and wild in life, before closing out the song and show with the lyrics, “Boredom won’t get me tonight”. That thought must have echoed throughout the audience in the 800-capacity venue, which did not seem lacking in energy at any point of the night.
Opening up the show were Death Grips, who have been picking up a fair amount of buzz for taking hip hop in a much darker direction, resulting in a unique hard-hitting sound which is a much-welcomed change of pace. Comprised of producer Flatlander, drummer Zach Hill and MC Ride on vocals, the trio delivers their take on a genre that has not seen much innovation in recent years.
Hill consistently dished out an intense drum assault which perfectly accompanied Flatlander’s frantic and experimental beats. Ride’s look could be perceived as intimidating as his growling, brutal vocals themselves. He took to the stage shirtless, showing off unique and cryptic tattoos most notably highlighted by the large pentagram on his chest. The aggressive vocal delivery is a perfect match for the underlying electronic, at times eerie, sounds laid out by Flatlander.
The combination is a perfect match for delivering the mysterious and menacing mood the groups seems to be going for. Starting their set off with “Lost Boys”, they then ripped into tracks such as “Guillotine,” “The Fever (Aye Aye)” and “Get Got”. Their momentum never seemed to falter throughout the energetic 45-minute set, and it seems as if that energy will keep on going with a summer tour and two albums scheduled for release this year alone.