After five minutes of labyrinthine guitars and blistering drums, the WHPK record library falls silent, except for one man, Fucked Up vocalist Pink Eyes. “If I have to die, I’m glad I’m gonna die under a hail of falling records.” There it is–proof that crossover hardcore darlings Fucked Up haven’t totally escaped their roots as punk nerds. In the seven years since their founding, they’ve charted a course from distinctive if traditional hardcore to what Pink Eyes referred to as “Pitchfork-approved psychedelia.” There’s nothing radical about a band getting slower and druggier; the same process took ’80s hardcore legends Black Flag from shaved-head furies to long-haired sludge metallers. Alas, Black Flag never played WHPK.
In the years before they started recording LPs, Fucked Up released nearly a dozen singles (compiled on the wonderfully-titled “Epics in Minutes”) while fanning controversy through cryptic lyrics, obscure symbolism, free tattoos, and most shockingly in the ossified punk community, scary references to Ezra Pound, the Romanian fascist mystic Mircea Eliade, and acid house art weirdos the KLF. Suffice it to say that nobody ever called their early arrangements lush. Two double albums later, they’ve got three guitarists, dozens of collaborators, and fat contracts. Case in point: the twelve-hour party they played a few weeks ago in a New York designer jeans store where Akon made a cameo. But if it’s fair to say Fucked Up has been co-opted–take the essentially symbiotic destruction of an MTV Canada bathroom last month that climaxed in the archly ironic graffito “RIP KURT” –they’ve become more exciting musically.
So what of the set itself? Though mixing and time were an issue, the band seemed to enjoy their four songs, including three from their newest double LP, “The Chemistry of Common Life.” Bassist Mustard Gas churns out catchy riffs like nobody but Kim Deal’s business, and Pink Eyes growls like a champ. But the main attraction was the pedal-philic guitar section, which bridged any number of gaps between punk, twee, emotional hardcore, krautrock, and heavy psych. In some ways, it’s only the logical progression of their efforts to subvert punk. When amorphously defined hipsterdom subsumes all subcultures, what else can you do but synthesize the rock canon? If blending Can and Negative Approach is the answer, I’ll stay excited.