Rite of First Refusal

A dead band resurrects and kills.

I felt a bit late to the game at the end of 1978 as I sheepishly bought my first copy of the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks. As awkward teenagers, most of us have this experience where we have to accept the fact that we are not as cool as some other kids.

I didn't get turned on to Refused until about 1999. Again, I was late to the game. Their epic The Shape of Punk to Come had been made in 1997. This time I had the excuse of being a new father to two young children; there was just no way I could keep up with new music.

Alas, just as I was getting into the band, I discovered they had broken up. News on the street was that they would never again play as a group. Singer Dennis Lyxzén had formed International Noise Conspiracy, and the rest of the dudes were nowhere to be found. They were committed to their message of punk honesty and strife, and they seemed just as committed to their message that Refused were fucking dead.

But thankfully for a lot of us, Refused somehow found a way to get back together and play some shows this year, something most thought would never happen. I saw that they were playing at Coachella last spring, but life is busy, and those aforementioned "babies" are now teenagers themselves. But I would get another chance—and not at some huge festival, but in my hometown of Seattle. A couple weeks ago, I finally saw Refused, and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

A Refused show ain't a fucking social event. They are not a band that attracts a casual fan. No, shows like this actually live and breathe and have movement. An experience and a moment in time. To be remembered as an event. If you were there, you simply saw and heard what I did: The band live was better than the records.

The crowd air-bassed and yelled its lungs out. A girl to the right of me was losing her shit, like at a My War–era Black Flag show. There was a couple to my left who kept looking at each other as if to say "Can you BELIEVE this? We never thought we'd see this fucking day!!" There were jock guys there, and punks and hipsters and old-schoolers like me. But that night, there was no distinction separating any of us. It was like a Stooges or Prince show—it was that fucking cool.

Later that night I got a text from my 15-year-old daughter, Grace. She wanted to know if it was OK if she went to a concert in downtown L.A. that weekend, and wondered if I could get her a ticket. I looked online at who would be playing. At the top of the bill? Refused.

Yes, Grace, you can go. No, you will not have to pay me back.


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