There’s a lot to be said about Toronto’s Fucked Up: they are critical darlings; the progressive quality and orchestrations of their latest album, Chemistry of Common Life, has broken barriers for hardcore and punk music; they are at the vanguard of DIY bands, and one of few that lives their politics; their shows live up to lead singer Damian Abraham’s claim of being “orgies of destruction”; they are, quite simply, the real deal.
The shows are closer to events than any I’ve witnessed in New York. Their utter ownership of the Masonic Temple (with Vivian Girls, Andrew W.K., and Titus Andronicus) last year made them the first hardcore band ever to earn a place on New York’s approval matrix.
Abraham’s wit and irreverence were on prime display last night at Europa in Greenpoint, where the band performed with Kurt Vile. Telling a story about getting lost in Brooklyn for 3 hours after a photo shoot earlier that day, he confessed “I walked further than any 300 lb man had ever walked…I’m gonna write a book and call it My Struggle. No one’s used that name yet, right?” And later, on Sarah Palin, “You don’t think I’m terrified? She’s going to invade Canada first. We’re closest, and it’s a straight route to Alaska. Palin in 2012! It’s going to be a great time for punk rock, but a terrible time for humanity.”
Earlier that morning, on my couch, where Abraham had slept the night before, and we’d watched the cavalcade of insanity that is Bad Lieutenant 2: Port Call of New Orleans, I got a private dose of the front man’s humor (full disclosure: I’ve known Damian since we were 12: I was in his wedding, I watched him go straight edge and he used to throw me to the ground and shake me violently when I would show up to high school on mushrooms).
Between our disbelief over the fact that Inglorious Basterds had been nominated for Best Picture and a story about a formative Bay Area punk rocker, named Sammytown, who killed his girlfriend with his bare hands, we got on the topic of Abraham’s 10-month old son. “He’s into Yo Gabba Gabba. Loves that. He watches The Situation Room with me and he’s not scared of Wolf Blitzer, but he doesn’t care…we go to Mommy and Me movies, where people can bring their babies.”
Abraham’s figuring out how to manage his new family with a road schedule that can be daunting (he was heading towards SXSW, after which they’ll be going to Mexico, for the day, before heading back to Canada—all in a van). “Being on tour takes it out of me. You’re not sleeping well. You’re not eating necessarily well. But it’s my own fault, because everyone else in the band tries to go to Whole Foods.”
“I wasn’t going to blame other people,” I said. “I wasn’t going to blame, like, your tour manager.” (The next day, for breakfast, we elected for Grey’s Papaya)
“We don’t have a tour manager. Jonah (Falco-drums, arrangements) does our tour managing. We all have our own jobs. Jonah’s the tour manager. Sandy (Miranda—base) does travel logistics. Mike (Haliechuck—guitar) does the planning and Josh (Zucker—rhythm guitar) does merch and I do press. So many bands, especially now, it’s all about having a tour manager, a publicist…they have these people that they pay for that are there to keep them away from the people who like their band. All they are is obstacles. And I don’t really need anyone to keep the people away from me at a show,” he says, which rings completely true—Abraham is often in with the crowd, spitting and being spat on, launching hardcore kids into each other, wearing them on his back and neck like indie accessories. “That’s one of the reasons I love punk; other forms there’s always this huge division between band and fan.”
Watching the band perform on Friday, this was obvious. Never mind the shared of spit and oxygen and microphone, Abraham’s interplay with his audience steered the performance to something approaching the conversational. Afterwards, there was no scuttling off to the green room; the band packed up their own gear, and Abraham stood in the middle of the hall, joking and hugging with his fans. A good lesson for acts in the age of Facebook; it’s no longer alright to just play; you have to engage.
As Fucked Up has come closer to becoming an up-the-middle hit, one corollary has been the change in demographics at their shows. It’s not just hardcore kids anymore—it’s a mixed bag. And there’s girls. Cute ones. Lots of them. The boys ain’t half bad either. As she walked in, my friend Sarah told me, “Every boy I wanted to date when I was 15 is here.”
If you’re a punk fan, or not, judge for yourself whether that’s fucked up: