Words and photos by Farrah Skeiky
The scene laid before us is a common one, especially at this venue: a “typical hardcore strongman” type is on stage proselytizing to a crowd of eager converts. Like any punk show, each attendee is vying for a turn at the mic, hungry for a chance to get as close as possible to the person wielding it. If you’ve been to a solid show of any punk subgenre, you know this scene well. But if you’re just seeing Fucked Up for the first time, you immediately recognize that something here is different; something here is special.
In fact, many things are different in this version of a picture we think we recognize, but we can start with Damian Abraham. The frontman and lyricist has an energy that he can barely contain, and he won’t. He resides between prolific and primal– prolific in his lyrics, primal in their delivery. He charges at fans with the mic like a bull, and as soon as he’s done enough to make one person’s night, he moves onto the next grateful, ecstatic face. Contrary to the teeming anger that drives most of these songs, this is a cathartic experience, not a stressful one. No one is having any ideology or opinion forced down their throats. We are not being sold on any ideas; no one feels the pressure of having something to prove. Instead, both sides of the stage are part of an unspoken agreement: We play these songs to get things off our chest, and you listen to them to do the same. Now we get to scream out lyrics until our throats are sore– together.
The imagined line between stage and floor is further blurred upon the realization that this music is the only thing the musicians may have in common, and the only thing that connects this eclectic crowd. On stage, independence is the theme. Band members have different performing styles and clothing styles. Collared shirts, basketball shorts, maxi dresses and a smattering of mismatched sneakers– if someone saw Fucked Up walking down H Street, they wouldn’t believe these six were making music together. The floor is a mirror image. Fan participation varies– a good amount are grasping for the mic, some stare up at Damian with wide eyes in utter enchantment, some open up the pit and dive in, and some hang back by the bar to watch a much bigger picture together (and to watch Damian drip candle wax down his chest). A good portion of the crowd very obviously just came from work. Some are dressed for the occasion, some are dressed however they feel because it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that brought all these people together is this band and this music. And if you know Fucked Up, you know that there have been some close calls with that, too.
Through a set that substantially explored each part of Fucked Up’s musical journey so far, nothing is more effective in shutting down haters than being able to hear that the band has stayed true to themselves as they’ve grown and evolved. Those who laud Glass Boys as the band’s “return to true punk”– usually the same as those who didn’t care for the concepts or experimentation of Chemistry of Common Life or David Comes to Life— hear a smattering of all those songs in stark juxtaposition. At no point is any song greeted by uncertainty or reluctant participation. No song was thrown into the set to appease someone. Every song carries an invigorated sense of introspection, and Fucked Up are masters of making those feelings relatable.
We’ve already established that Fucked Up has something for everyone to appreciate, whether it’s a part of their story, a specific album, or even just a single line in a song. And that’s why everyone showed up– they showed up for the Greek philosophy references, for the saccharine hook of Black Albino Bones, for the chance that they might hear any song from David Comes to Life because they listened to it on repeat during a breakup. Maybe they showed up because listening to Fucked Up is extremely cathartic because you can hear the catharsis seeping through the speakers, and the only thing that could possibly be better is experiencing that live. Maybe grabbing the mic from Damian and yelling his own words back at him is the only way you know how to say thank you: thank you for bearing your soul and your stomach, because it makes me feel comfortable in doing the same.