David Comes To Life Comes To Life: Fucked Up Live

Brad Sanders is wowed and bloodied by the spectacle of Fucked Up playing David Comes To Life in New York. Photos thanks to Steph Aaronson

Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge is a strange place for a hardcore show, its off-Broadway atmosphere seemingly better suited to dance parties and plays than feedback and broken noses. Even the floor plan daunts. A sleek, dark bar lines an entire wall, and two elevated areas meant for rows of seats overlook the round stage, which sits precariously in the middle of the room. No one knows just where to stand to anticipate the oncoming assault by Toronto’s Fucked Up, the infamous hardcore punk band who had the audacity to record a 78-minute rock opera called David Comes to Life earlier this year. Now, they intend to play the damn thing on stage here in New York City. Surely Sid Vicious is rolling in his grave.

And yet, plenty more punk icons almost certainly are not. There’s a misconception regarding punk that if it doesn’t adhere to an establishment-dismantling, two-minute song format, it ain’t punk.

Even Fucked Up, a band whose oeuvre has grown to include zodiac-themed 15-minute songs, recurring characters that stretch across multiple releases, and extensive use of flute, have innumerable fans who just want to skull-bashing old shit and go home. To hell with those guys – David Comes to Life was the logical next step for Fucked Up, and witnessing them take the audacious leap of transferring it to the stage is a privilege.

If there’s a better live act going today than Fucked Up, I’ve not seen them. Flanked by a tuxedo-clad string quartet playing the mellower guitar arrangements from David Comes to Life, the Toronto sextet absolutely bulldoze through the allotted two hours. The triplicate guitar attack of Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook is impossibly tight, a well-oiled machine whose three amps manage to sound like a thousand, the sum far more than its parts. Their lockstep riffing is supported by drummer Jonah Falco and bassist Sandy Miranda, whose unstoppable groove pervades even the most abrasive moments of the band’s music.

And then there’s Damian Abraham, the closest thing this generation will ever see to a GG Allin or a Jerry A. But unlike those iconoclastic punk icons, Abraham’s approach to stage performance is infectiously positive. He throws his shirtless, 250-plus pound frame around the audience with reckless abandon, but he’s grinning the entire time, shoving the microphone in excited fans’ faces and hugging everyone he can envelop in his sweaty arms. His boundless enthusiasm doesn’t detract in the least from his performance. His throat-searing roar soars above the mix and retains every ounce of its recorded intensity.

Tonight, each of David Comes to Life‘s 18 tracks is a triumphant highlight. The album’s epic scope comes through without ever feeling pretentious, thanks mostly to Abraham’s deadpanned introductions to each of the record’s four acts. The first, consisting of ‘Let Her Rest’, ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘Under My Nose’, ‘The Other Shoe’, and ‘Turn the Season’, introduces David Eliade, a downtrodden employee of a light bulb factory in late 70s England who falls in love with a communist activist called Veronica. The band strikes the perfect balance of melody and ferocity right out of the gate, and this part of the set comes off unbelievably well, the performance erupting with the same intensity as the record. The middle two acts, in which David loses Veronica and grapples with his responsibility for her death, keeps the room’s energy consistent, and the wonderfully meta final act (especially the closing Paradise Regained and one-two punch of ‘One More Night’ and ‘Lights Go Up’) brings a teary-eyed, visceral catharsis, Damian’s screams channeling David so well that it’s impossible to separate the singer from his creation.

What’s remarkable about Fucked Up’s performance of this album is how little of their intensity is lost despite its sprawling nature. Four acts, eighteen songs, 78 minutes, and a narrative aren’t exactly conducive to having a great punk show on paper, but this band more than manages. The power of this set feels like enough to reverse 40 years of (somewhat inexplicable) bad press for concept albums. David Comes to Life is grandiose, sure, but it’s never pretentious, and it certainly doesn’t do anything without a very good reason. Besides, it’s not like Fucked Up’s lost the ability to emote in a more straightforward manner.

The encore of ‘Crusades’, ‘Police’, and David Eliade’s first appearance in the Fucked Up mythos, ‘David Comes to Life’, pulls the band from its character-inhabiting cocoon and shows them for what they were before any of this rock opera stuff: a great punk band. Damian even puts his shirt back on, a visual cue recalling the band’s self-conscious early era. Even though these older songs are sequestered in an encore, the chasm between Fucked Up’s past and their present isn’t as big as the old-school fans would have you believe. Everything the band has done in its decade-long career has made perfect sense in context. If the songs on 2008’s Polaris-winning The Chemistry of Common Life or David Comes to Life sounded just like the demos Fucked Up cut in 2002, that would be a far bigger problem than writing a rock opera. That they lost none of their crushing dominance as a live act as their music evolved is a testament to their greatness. In fact, they’ve only gotten better onstage, and with blood flowing down my face from a wound of mysterious origin and my throat sore from screaming too many lyrics into the proffered mic, it’s sadly time to go home from what may be the best show I’ve ever seen.

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