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March 3, 2007
At some point during their set last Saturday at the Mercury Lounge, Damian Abraham, the generously-sized singer for hardcore band F’ed Up (the group’s full name is unprintable here), announced that it felt good for his band to be back in New York. "The city of big dreams," he joked before launching full-bodied into another song that was as subtle and calm as a train wreck. The shirtless Abraham, whose forehead gushed blood from a deliberate cut, prowled the stage like a large animal stalking his prey, and the audience couldn’t get close enough to him.
His band mates – all in various stages of perspiration – guitarist Mike Haliechuck, guitarist Josh Zucker, bassist Sandy Miranda and drummer Jonah Falco charged behind Abraham with stone-faced determination, rarely stopping for a breath during a set that included a large swath of the band’s 2006 sprawling debut album Hidden World (Jade Tree)
Softcore form: Abraham at the Mercury Lounge
Credit: Joe Pompeo
The obvious sarcasm aside, Abraham probably meant what he said. For it was a mere few months ago, in early November, when the band left their native Toronto for a round of CMJ shows in New York, only to be turned around by guards at the U.S./Canadian border. Those shows were to coincide with the release of Hidden World. But now, returning to the city and the U.S. this March, with the aid of attorneys, served as a tactical victory for a band whose every song sounds like a primal battle cry.
Since forming in 2001, F’ed Up has perfected a formula over more than 20 records of fast guitars, even faster drums and a voice menacing enough to impress the most notorious throat-shredding vocalists like Negative Approach’s John Brannon or Poison Idea’s Jerry A. and terrify even the most hardened criminal. But where most hardcore groups shoot out minute-long tantrums with obvious lyrical themes, F’ed Up songs are a little less orthodox: they can last an unheard-of five minutes, often have discernible and catchy melodies, have string arrangements by Final Fantasy/Arcade Fire player Owen Pallet, and often come with abstract lyrics.
It was interesting watching exuberant, stagediving fans attempt stern finger pointing and singing along with a song like "Crusades," one that bears the cryptic line "Ruderal roots/Telluric shoots in cahoots" and goes on to mention a "Chthonic breath meristem jubilee".
But for the fans who flooded the sold-out Mercury Lounge (a venue not commonly associated with hardcore or punk music) Saturday show, seeing F’ed Up not only satiated those who lamented missing them in November (myself included), it was also reminiscent of the bygone era of New York City hardcore, a time in the ’80s when bands with urgent names like Antidote, The Abused, Youth of Today and Bold and personalities with even more colorful and menacing monikers such as Raybeez, Paul Bearer and Mike Judge helped form an internationally-recognized scene in the corroded Lower East Side.
And with his considerable bulk, shaved head and construction boots, Abraham bears more than a passing resemblance to the intimidating Bearer or Judge. But during the show Abraham seemed to delight more in being the big, friendly dude with a microphone. He stopped to pass out water bottles to the audience, crack good-natured jokes, and he smiled wide while people sang lyrics back to him or hopped onto his back.
F’ed Up may have a popularity-restricting name, and an album that, because of its 70-minute length, takes dogged determination to finish, but none of that is material when the band’s live set is strong enough to convince listeners that this is the only band right now that matters.