Photos By Clarissa Villondo, Words by Connor McInerney
For the last decade, Toronto’s Fucked Up have been one of the stand out bands in the harsh, auxiliary haze that is the contemporary post-punk scene. Lauded by Pitchfork with a well produced video series of performances, and lauded by Wikipedia with a ridiculously long discography of releases, the band sold out a three hundred person gig at Rock and Roll Hotel last year. By this measure, I was a bit surprised to walk into their Monday night show at the Howard Theatre and find that there were roughly sixty people in attendance, interspersed awkwardly on the standing room floor, an battalion of bearded musclemen swaying gingerly as if at middle school dance.
But what does Fucked Up do with a half-empty house and a full hour of joyous gloom ahead of them? They play. And they fucking electrify those of us lucky enough to be in such a deeply intimate setting for a band defined by its raw, emotional ferocity.
Tourmates Doomsquad (also from Toronto) performed first, but it’s unfair to call them openers because they played with Fucked Up during their set too. This was part of the ongoing Zodiac Tour, a live performance project in which both bands play together for a series of gigs showcasing the singles named after animals of the Chinese annual calendar. These songs are characterized by long, drawn out, experimental post-rock reverberations of voice and guitar.
Doomsquad’s set has the semblance of new age mystery religion, with the three Blumas siblings (Trevor, Jaclyn and Allie) producing tribal, driving and visceral soundscapes. Accented by unique samplings (including usage of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Mass), chanting, dancing and echoing ad absurdum, the three Blumas high priests created an effervescent new age mass with an overlying sense of dread.
A pervasive flowing quality characterized every nature of the evening’s show, between the seamless transitions in Doomsquad’s songs, to the repositioning of their synths in the theater’s foray, to the mass entrance of the additional six individuals that comprise Fucked Up’s permanent line up. Frontman Damian Abraham was the last to enter, clad modestly in basketball shorts and a ratty Trash Talk t-shirt. Abraham, after shooting the shit with the audience about losing weight due to a recent “health kick” (a thinly veiled reference to smoking weed) before immersing himself within a grooving rage.
Visually and technically, Fucked Up carries an intimidating sense of awe live. Nine people on stage at once present a wall of sound, nuanced and gritty and melodic all at once. The on stage visuals range from disorienting to outright bizarre; in line with the Zodiac theme, a low quality image of the golden head of an ox appeared projected on stage briefly, before metamorphosing slowly into a dragon, then a dog. With each iteration, the image became more suspect to bit-corruption, showing characteristics of each animal of the Zodiac like some terrible 21st century chimera. This was in some ways representative of Fucked Up’s stage presence, this unholy, incredible mix of stylings from subgenres of alternative rock, all the while being joyful and terrifying and perplexing.
Despite the diverse and often confusing nature of FU’s performance, it did not carry over in Abraham’s onstage banter. Abraham hits the floor, crawls around, makes intense eye contact with fans in the front row and yells directly into Jonah Falco’s bass drum, indulging himself in noise and setting. He then gets up, and talking to the audience, informs us, “So, the third kid’s on the way, my wife and I are very excited. Kids are just so smart, you know.” He graciously acknowledges the sound engineers and shows gratitude to Howard, stating with humility, “This is probably the most beautiful venue we’ve ever gotten the chance to sully.” He cracks jokes about Snake Peopleand laughs, then launches into “Year of the Dragon” and we’re thrown back into a doomy, experimental post rock odyssey twenty minutes in length.
Perhaps this is what makes seeing Fucked Up such an exciting, enjoyable roller coaster of emotion. Abraham and his ragamuffin gang of eight channel such raw emotional intensity, often for twenty minutes at a time in arduous, avant-garde listening periods of aggressive Gibson guitars and interpersonal lyrics, but ever-presently know it’s all in good fun. They acknowledge the dichotomy of the human existence, both the good and bad, and bring it into a communal sense of belonging in a way that is pure, energetic fun.
In the name of good times, Fucked Up closes with the hits, including “The Other Shoe,” breaking the trance of the crowd into a pit. When we cheer for an encore, the band leaves the stage, save for Damian Abraham, who giddily comes down onto the floor to hug fans and talk about music and WWE like we’re all old friends.