Friday, August 6, 2010

Gig: Fucked Up

Fucked Up ($100)

Toronto Reference Library. Friday, May 28, 2010.

A return to downtown's Reference Library branch for the "Make Some Noise" program, though this time, there weren't advance tickets. Hard to gauge what that would mean for getting in, as headliners Fucked Up are a pretty good draw, and this was free and proudly all-ages. I was killing time after work on a Friday evening, so I ended up standing outside in line, watching the class struggle unfold at Yonge and Yorkville. As it turned out, I probably could have just shown up closer to showtime and wandered right in — there's a helluva lot of room in the large open heart of the library, so it seems like no one was turned away. As always, things were handled pretty well from the library's end, smiling staff fostering a "you belong here" sort of vibe to the mixed crowd, heavy on punks and teens. Before the bands started, there were even prizes given out to library card holders. So, looking up at the smoothly-curved tiers of the library's upper levels, it felt pretty all right.

"Nice to be in one of the only public institutions with any dignity," singer Simone Fornow said as $100 took the stage. It's funny how seeing bands sometimes happens in clumps — this being my second time within a couple weeks. But this is a band I don't get tired of — especially when the heart of their set was based around some of their ace new material. The new ones included "If It Weren't For the Carnations", "Meet Me Where the Sparrows Drop" (an especially strong composition, though marred a bit on this night with some feedback issues), "Powdered Confessions" (with a flanged guitar sound, closer to 80's commercial country than the band's usually gets) and a new, as-yet-unnamed song about "how the city kills people" ("if you got no ties that bind you" was in the song's refrain).

Though there was a good crowd on hand as they played, there was elbow room up front, as a good chunk of the crowd was more just lingering, waiting for the headliners. For a giant, open space with a makeshift PA, the sound was decent enough — at least at this point in the evening.

Sandwiching all the new material, the set began and ended with some of the older, more familiar songs, the band going out with "Hell's a Place" and "No Great Leap" — Fornow observing before the latter's tale of suicide as an escape from dead-end jobs and hard living that while the atrium we were in would give librarians plenty of opportunities to off themselves, they probably like their jobs too much to do so. Like a shaft of gold when all around is darkness, it's always a treat to see $100 in action.

Listen to a track from this set here. Colin, over at Morning Noon Night, also mixed my audio with the video footage he shot at this show.

And then the expected realignment of the crowd as Fucked Up got ready to play. I was pretty sure I didn't want to be too close to the stage for this, though I underestimated how much space the moshing crowd would take up — it didn't take long into the band's set for the entire centre of the floor to be transformed into a giant circular pit, squeezing the non-moshers over — I ended up around almost perpendicular to the stage, as the band lead off with "Two Snakes" (from 2006's Hidden World). With a fairly deep catalogue, the band has a lot of songs they could throw at their audience, whether they fall into the faster-thrashier mode the band started with or the slightly slowed-down simmer that the band has evolved towards.1

The frothing three-guitar musical attack is undoubtedly a huge part of the band's appeal, but the thing that truly makes this a band worth seeing is frontman Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham, whose quickly-shirtless2 physical presence on the stage is as arresting as his quick wit. "We're Fucked Up and we're here with one message," he joked at the start of the set. "Books are dumb."

He quickly reversed on that position as he talked about the library, and wanting, as a teenager, to be able to gain entry to the library's secret reference collection of dirty books. The proud papa also had his baby son on hand, bringing him up on stage briefly as a segueway to the recent b-side "Heir Apparent". There's obviously so much more at play here than any sort of cartoon punk nihilism that those not paying attention might instinctively associate with a band like this.

In fact, the progressive breadth of their hardcore would soon be on display as the band paused for a moment to set up for "Year of the Ox" — the song new enough that Abraham needed a lectern to refer to his written lyrics. As well, the band was augmented with strings, which took a moment to get set up right. The fourth and latest of their series of songs inspired by the Chinese zodiac, "Ox" is as bold a statement as this band might yet have concocted. Running somewhere past eleven minutes, the first part featured Sandy Miranda's melodic bassline offering a catchy pop hook that was immediately at war with Abraham's growled vocals, while the second part featured backing vox from Aerin Fogel.3 Powerfully performed, even if it felt like the band were still getting comfortable with the complex beast of a song — and in the increasingly gloppy sound in the room, the strings got a bit lost in the mix. Regardless, a significant artistic statement.

That one actually had people standing and listening a bit more, but as the band broke into some more bite-sized chunks of music, the roiling crowd were soon surging against the stage in waves, audience members jumping up to stagedive or to be lifted and twirled around by Abraham. Meanwhile, the PA speakers and skinny poles holding the stage lights were in grave danger of toppling or getting pulled down, teetering dangerously as people up front bounced around. I was mildly surprised that the authorities from the library maintained their laissez faire attitude towards the equipment — including an expensive-looking projector suspended above the stage on a non-load-bearing pipe that crowd surfers kept grabbing on to — but eventually, members of the crowd self-organized to hold the poles steady, although the monitors and other gear at the front of the stage were getting knocked around a bit. During "Crusades", Abraham's microphone gave out, leaving the song pretty much entirely instrumental, save for the audience chanting along during the chorus. Closing out with "Police" and "Son the Father", the energy at the end was at least as strong as it had been to start, even if the sound was getting ragged and a lot of people in the crowd were looking woozy.

This was the third time I've seen Fucked Up, and each shares the central fact that the shows were entertaining as hell, even if they were somewhat chaotic events. The fusty audiophile part of my brain mildly rues the fact that I've never heard a particularly great-sounding set — though the band has never played less than superbly, the chaos of their shows doesn't create an easy environment for the sound tech. But they're vivid experiences, more about living in that moment than creating artifacts, and that's a punk ideal, right?

As is taking care of one another. "Please be respectful on your way out," Abraham reminded the crowd as he helped sort out the various shoes and keys that had shaken loose during the set, an impromptu lost-and-found that only works as a result of a basic sort of social contract — not unlike a library.

A couple recordings from this set: you can check out the heft of Fucked Up's ambitions here, or a more succinct rocker here.

1 Although this latter sort of music is still fairly fast and heavy by non-hardcore standards, it's interesting to note that digging around some in the punk commentary on Fucked Up, this stuff is referred to as their "shoegazing"-style material.

2 "I'm probably not the first shirtless guy at the Toronto Reference Library," Abraham opined, referring to the mixed bag of ranters and prophets and homeless who hang out there. "But I'm probably the first shirtless guy who's not immediately asked to leave."

3 Fogel also plays with F.U. guitarist Ben Cook in The Bitters.

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