It’s not every day that a tour announcement makes your 12 year old self faint retroactively. Hearing that The Hives and Refused were gearing up to come to the US for a brief stint sent me back in time and interrupted my algebra homework. The aptly named ‘Swedish Scream Team Tour’ reunited the two bands for the first time in 21 years. Even better was that the Chicago stop was at The Vic instead of the unbearable Aragon or the Riviera Theater. I did my best to dress for whatever the hell you call this wild seasonal fluctuation that is currently fucking with us and made my way to the show. On top of discovering Bleached was added to the tour, I made friends with a puppy outside the venue and that alone was almost enough to make my night.
This was my second time seeing Bleached and I was pumped. After catching them open for Against Me not too long ago, I was hooked on their edgy version of fuzzy indie rock. They ripped through a blistering set of tight harmonies, hot riffs, and buttery bass lines. Speaking of bass lines, I was super into the song with that featured the four string solo. There was so much to love about Bleached, but their command of the stage with a high octane performance stands out. Those who had the good sense to show up early were treated to a new song being played for the first time. I forget what it was called, but I’m betting it will be on the album they have coming out in July.
It’s been seven years and I still have a hard time believing that Refused is back. I spent much of my life accepting that my chance of ever seeing them were long gone. And now, I found myself cheering along just as excitedly for the fifth time I’ve watched them take the stage as I did the first. The guttural wall of fuzz that accompanied them would eventually become, “Rather Be Dead.” This prompted an enthusiastic cheer erupting from the crowd and it was a promising sign of things to come.
I last caught the Refused at Riot Fest a few years ago when they were calling the festival out for not featuring more female artists. Unlike so many bands that reunite after many years apart and end up looking tired the whole time, Refused seem to be fueled by the same fire that’s always burned and show no signs of slowing. It doesn’t help that world is still a dumpster fire where most of their songs are still largely relevant. Singer Dennis Lyxzen has been in numerous bands for years but Refused happens to currently be the most active one. He still has all the funkiest, wildest dance moves and is clearly not afraid to use them. Watching Dennis boogie on stage in his fancy suit has been my favorite thing about their shows and he has yet to disappoint.
The night was sold out and by the time Refused was kicking things into high gear, the crowd started to fill out and energy levels began to peak. While powering through “Deadly Rhythm,” the band took a mid song pause to jam out to Slayer’s “Reign in Blood.” Naturally, people – myself included – ate that shit right up. A hot new song called “Blood Red Until I’m Dead” and the promise of a new album were followed by the expected closer of “New Noise.” This is the point in the night where if anyone knows at least one Refused song, it’s this one. The crowd reacted in a proper surge to eleven as the band reflected those levels right back. Part one of the Swedish Scream team set a fairly high bar to follow. Having never seen The Hives before, I had no idea what they were capable of. Given everything I’ve heard, something told me they would be up to the challenge.
As the crew was setting things up for The Hives, I noticed something rather peculiar; some of them were dressed in all black, including a face mask. My first assumption was that it was ‘Masked Intruder Night’ at work and they all chose Intruder Black. Awkward. The crowd burst into cheers from the moment Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and the rest of The Hives took the stage in their finest wares. Right away, it became clear that a spectacle was about to take place and these were the equivalent of stagehands who wants to remain out of the spotlight. The level enthusiasm HPA’s guitar playing brother darted about the stage alone made paying attention to anything else a challenge.
I only ever properly listened to the first couple of Hives albums, so I was surprised how many of the songs from NOT those records that I was able to recognize. Outside of ABBA, there aren’t too many Swedish bands with the kind of exposure on American radio The Hives have enjoyed and it’s pretty easy to forget that. Several new songs were played and they had a lot of driving, high energy guitar parts reminiscent of the Riverboat Gamblers. The band was certainly fired up and hellbent on spreading that joy as far and wide across the stage as possible. Often times this extended to the crowd itself.
Not every venue has the luxury of seats and I am well past the point in life to turn down a well deserved sit. While a ravenous crowd eagerly awaited their next chance to envelop HPA, I went upstairs to take advantage of the seating situation The Vic had to offer. Finding an ideal view didn’t take long, considering how sparse the seating population was. Looking around, it made sense that the crowd on the floor ended up being too dense to get a decent aisle down the middle for the big finale. Pelle was not impressed at what Chicago considers ten paces, but remained a good sport and continued to play up the crowd. They even made sure to pause extensively for dramatic effect because, you know, they’re professionals. Or, so they say.
Considering the last time The Hives and Refused toured together was 21 years ago, you’d think age would have taken some toll by now. I’m in my 30s and regularly find myself hurting my shoulder if I get out of bed wrong. But there were Dennis Lyxen and Pelle Almqvist jumping off of speaker cabinets and swinging microphones like they won’t have a bunch of medical debt getting their knees replaced. Oh, wait… I can’t think of a better time than now to get these bands back together to spread their particular brand of chaos stateside. We live in dark times and if we can tap into the same joy that music gave us as kids, we will all be better for it.