Photography by Philip Cosores
“We’ve been playing this song a long time, and we wish it weren’t still applicable today, but it is,” Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham announced near the end of the Canadian hardcore-ish band’s headlining stop at the El Rey Theatre on Thursday night. “It’s called ‘Police’.”
What followed wasn’t surprising, considering the state of affairs in Ferguson, the recent incident involving Blood Orange at Lollapalooza, numerous incidents in New York, and the list can go on and on. Abraham dedicated the song to a number of not-so-hypothetical individuals, to “any person of color that has been mistreated by a cop,” to anyone arrested for “graffiti” or drugs, and on and on, before delivering a powerful rendition of the song where the typically jolly frontman let the smile disappear from his face and the audience shout along into the microphone.
This isn’t where the concert ended. It couldn’t. Even with a name like Fucked Up, even with vocals that rarely deviate from snarls and screeches, Abraham and his five talented backers love what they do too much to leave things on a note that was anything but celebratory. Backing up “Police” was “The Other Shoe”, easily the most accessible song in Fucked Up’s catalog, with the crowd taking the backing role for the first couple verses, shouting, “Dying on the inside,” before the band took over the slow-burner to create a communal, celebratory finish to the main set. (It has probably been said a hundred times, but the band is so dynamic when bassist Sandy Miranda is contributing backing vocals. It is not who the band is, but it is a great sound for them when employed.
Before all this came what was novel for only Fucked Up virgins. Abraham spent about 30 seconds onstage before leaping into the photo pit to kick off the night with a combination of “Echo Boomer” and “Queen of Hearts” that made the two sound like a single song. His faithful 40 or so dudes (and a couple brave ladies) went ape shit for the entire hour, sweating on each other, standing on each other, handing Abraham random objects to sop up his own perspiration, and even dousing him in glitter. It’s a scene you could see a dozen times and never tire of.
Between songs, Abraham is a different man: awkward, funny, gracious, polite. He responded to song requests with reasoning behind why they couldn’t play certain songs (mostly a lack of practice) and would recall past shows in Los Angeles, mostly quite smaller, though the El Rey was maybe half-full, saying less about Fucked Up’s popularity than it did about the packed schedule the city faced a couple days before its yearly FYF Fest.
Along with the continually impressive Tijuana Panthers, Fucked Up didn’t fret the mediocre turnout, and the audience was riveted to the point that no thought could really be paid to the empty space in the back. If anything was disappointing, the teased encore was set to feature a long song (“Year of the Dragon”), only to be notified that they had two minutes before they had to stop, making them shift gears to a slightly anti-climactic finish. But, sometimes a wind down is nice, and the evening still felt complete, as Abraham stood back in the photo pit post-show, saying hi, hugging, or shaking hands with anyone that cared to. Don’t let the name, or the sound, or the appearance of the band fool you. Fucked Up is about embracing life, about unity, and about smiles more than it is about some of the dark content its songs contain. At this point, Fucked Up is almost a misnomer, and that kind of rules.