Fucked Up at last year's Pitchfork Festival in Chicago was a sight to behold. Pink Eyes (Damian Abraham) chewed through a barrage of beach balls tossed to the stage, eventually wearing one as hat before stripping to his shorts to expose his beautifully formed potbelly. One of the guitarists jumped into the crowd. People walked away bloody. In summary: Fucked Up is great live.
But, that was a stage in the wide open spaces of Union Park. At the dungeon-like Jackpot in Lawrence, I was worried that the constrictive space of the venue might damper the band's kinetic power. The Jackpot is a curious place: narrow, dimly lit, with cheap, low ceilings. But this claustrophobic setting seemed to agitate these punk behemoths even more. The crowd moshed furiously in widening and contracting rectangles of bouncing bodies, like a school of fish swimming in tandem with Pink Eyes's movement on the tiny stage.
The uncontainable Fucked Up frontman (the pun isn't intentional, though perhaps appropriate) often jumped into the crowd, at one point intercepting a crowdsurfer and carrying him deep into the bar. Just for kicks, he wore a crumpled up dixie cup as hat, then later as a hood ornament on his pale glistening stomach.
Later in the performance, Pink Eyes finished his verse, left the stage to snag a drink and made his way to the Jackpot's photobooth, where he and a lucky few fans took some snapshots -- all the while the rest of band continued playing their pummeling noise.
Fucked Up's brand of punk is often called artful, and the band is an ambassador of a new wave of smart hardcore. With a three-guitarist configuration and arguably one of the best rhythm sections in a current hard rock band, Fucked Up's saturated pile-drivers have a palpable texture.
"Crooked Head" from 2008's The Chemistry of Common Life layered heavy riffs on top of each other, yet the guitarwork -- at the hands of three different guitarists -- was distinct, not as smeary or distorted. The song became a widening envelope of noise, anchored by Pink Eyes' growl-speak. "Black Albino Bones," also from The Chemisty of Common Life, showcased the band at its most melodic. With a harmonized chorus that pinched, pretty falsetto into the band's swirling heaviness, it was one of the few moments of respite during a thunderous, menacing performance.
Despite the crazed antics and crushing music, that Fucked Up's members are nice. (Like, Canadian nice.) Before the set, Pink Eyes happily signed autographs, hung out with the smokers, and even passed around Canadian currency. Bassist Sandy Miranda was friendly and engaging. They're generous and gracious employees of hardcore: a job they clearly love.
For first few songs of local Rooftop Vigilantes, I was unimpressed. As the Lawrence outfit continued, their songs not only became better: they skirted greatness. The band's crunchy punk with hints of psychedelia (courtesy of an organ accompaniment) veered from slurred Fugazi to Velvet Underground-like mini-freakouts. By the end, trio had me convinced that they were, as many had divulged, one of the best acts currently in Larryville.