Review: Rock heavyweights Thrice and Refused kick off UK tour in Birmingham

Refused. Picture: David Jackson
Refused. Picture: David Jackson

David Jackson reviews Thrice and Refused at the O2 Academy, Birmingham

As US heavyweights Thrice and Refused kick off their UK tour in Birmingham, we consider the curious case of the co-headline tour and how both bands faired in the second city.

Thrice. Picture: David Jackson

Thrice. Picture: David Jackson

For those in need of an introduction, Thrice and Refused – while occupying different spaces within the rock / hardcore punk genres – both have equally impressive stories to tell.

Sweden’s Refused have just released their latest album War Music, the follow up to their 2015 LP Freedom which followed a lengthy hiatus following 1998’s seminal record The Shape Of Punk To Come.

Thrice released their 10th LP Palms last year and have been steadily refining their sound away from the melodic hardcore they broke through with around the turn of the century.

The co-headline concept is an interesting one. Ultimately, someone is headlining and, unless both bands plan to rotate each night, it’s Thrice taking to the stage last on this run of UK dates, with Refused following openers Gouge Away.

Refused. Picture: David Jackson

Refused. Picture: David Jackson

In reality, ‘co-headline’ is just shorthand for both acts playing similar length sets, with Thrice just bringing along a more elaborate array of stage lights.

To immediately address something obvious from Saturday night, the main room of Birmingham’s O2 Academy was operating well below capacity.

The balcony was closed and, unlike when Pixies headlined in September and there was barely room to move, on Saturday there was ample space.

However, it was full enough and it certainly didn’t stop any band put on a stellar performance or detract from anyone enjoying the night.

Thrice. Picture: David Jackson

Thrice. Picture: David Jackson

Openers Gouge Away put in a sold opening set of tracks from their first two LPs before attention turned to the headliners.

Refused’s blueprint is based around hardcore punk riffs, politically charged left-leaning lyrics and the sharp dress sense and moves of singer Dennis Lyxzén.

They pulled tracks from across their career, but their set was heavily weighted towards their latest LP.

They opened with REV001 and Violent Reaction before heading into Worms Of The Senses.

Support act Gouge Away. Picture: David Jackson

Support act Gouge Away. Picture: David Jackson

Lyxzén is a mesmerising to watch, arriving on stage wearing a black beret which was quickly discarded.

Throughout Refused’s set he was rarely stationary, jumping into the air, throwing and catching his microphone and stand while incorporating some nifty moves.

On the occasions between songs his was still, he stopped to talk about the political protests in Hong Kong, his excitement about uprisings against capitalism across the world and to reference climate change.

While announcing capitalism “needs to be destroyed,” he concedes a touring band is part of the system they want to fight – but that they also need to earn a living. (The customary merch stand in the corner of the Academy, as well as t-shirts, LPs and hats, was selling a pricey skate deck covered with the artwork of the band’s 1998 album.)

Highlights of Refused’s set included Rather Be Dead and Coup d'état from their second LP, while the likes of Malfire from War Music stand out among their new material.

Refused ended their set with their biggest hit New Noise which sent much of the Academy faithful into a moshing frenzy.

By comparison, Thrice couldn't quite match the energy of Refused, with singer and guitarist Dustin Kensrue tied to his mic in the centre of the stage for the majority of the gig and remaining much quieter.

That said, they still weighed in with a very respectable set of songs from across their career, relying less on their most recent material.

Compared to Refused who maintained a pretty solid breakneck pace, the wider range of Thrice’s music allows them to significantly shift the tone and feel of the night.

Their first three songs exemplified this, from the synth opener Only Us to the rockier Image Of The Invisible to the more post-hardcore sounds of Silhouette.

The Artist In The Ambulance from their 2003 album of the same name was among the highlights of their set which again shifted some of those content on nodding along into more of an excitable frenzy while Black Honey and The Window remain some of the best songs Thrice have written in years and both sound huge live.

Thrice turned the tempo right down to close the night, ending with the slow burning Beyond The Pines which finished virtually with a whisper, with Kensrue thanking the Birmingham crowd and departing.

So, who should be headlining this co-headline tour? Refused brought the excitement and energy but were maybe slightly hamstrung by War Music not quite hitting the high standards of their past LPs.

Thrice were maybe the masters of the long game showing their strength in depth, playing a set which despite at times dragging a little, had enough highlights to satisfy.