Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
03/03/2020

Maybe this whole coronavirus thing is actually a pretty big deal. Though it may not be the pandemic we all believe it will be, it seems that people are frightened enough that they’re going into panic mode and staying in instead of going to concerts. Only 500 or so people showed up to see Refused, even though the Roseland Theater sold 750 tickets. Maybe there were other factors for the low attendance. It was Super Tuesday and even though new record, War Music, is really great maybe people didn’t listen to it because 2015’s Freedom was pretty terrible. It’s hard to say, but security in latex gloves sprayed handrails and other surfaces with Clorox repeatedly throughout the night.

It shouldn’t be like this: the last time the Swedish punk crown jewel Refused played the space in 2012, it sold out. A beautiful rush of overjoyed-but-bitterly aging punk bodies finally got to pay tribute to The Shape of Punk to Come, an album that left its mark after the band had already declared “Refused Are Fucking Dead.” Eight years on, Refused is a band still capable of creating brilliant, loud, bile-filled songs worth hearing, and deserve the sweat-letting of shows past.

Did Refused care, though? Hell no, they didn’t. Frontperson Dennis Lyxzén didn’t let the weak turnout do anything to quash his energy – he still strut around the stage, arms flailing and gesturing wildly. He didn’t seem to stop moving at any point, except for when he’d stand with one foot propped up on the stage monitors (and even then, his fist seemed permanently thrust in the air). Lyxzén is 47, but he performs with a level of ceaseless energy that scientists ought to study in an attempt to solve the mystery of perpetual energy. It’s infectious and ridiculously impressive. He was also full of stories, waxing rhapsodical about the community that they found within Sweden’s punk scene as rambunctious youths and, in general, being way too charming for his own good.

The rest of the band were incredibly tight, too – it turned out to be one of the best-sounding performances I’ve ever heard in the Roseland. The venue is rarely great, but this one felt somehow on a different level. Everything was masterfully balanced and the band’s dynamic song structures translated freakishly well in the space. The band ping-ponged around their discography, a wholly satisfying mix of songs from Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent and The Shape of Punk to Come, with an obvious focus on War Music.

Unsurprisingly, just one song from Freedom was trotted out. Lead single “Elektra” felt like the perfect fit for the set, just three songs in. Things in the world have gotten progressively worse since Freedom was released, but its level of anger felt super-potent. “Nothing has changed! Nothing has changed!” Lyxzén screamed, the crowd joining him in exploring the feeling of anger that the unrest that inspired The Shape of Punk was still alive and well. In between songs, Lyxzén occasionally tooks moments to marvel at how much the band’s music still resonates: “We wrote “Coup D’etat” 25 years ago, and we were young punks exaggerating, but these songs are more real than ever,” he said halfway through the set.

Whatever reason people stayed home, be it plague or politics, it’s gauche to truly knock them for doing so. Refused deserve far better than a half-full venue, though, but the fact that they didn’t let that bog them down was a lot more inspiring than it might be for any other band. The world still needs bands like Refused. Here’s hoping their next Portland show isn’t preempted by a pandemic and they get the turnout they should’ve had.

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