One Goddamn Helluva Show
This story from After School Radio made me laugh.1
I have to tell a story about this band because they’re amazing. On the opposite end of the family-friendly spectrum is a punk band called Fucked Up from Toronto. They’re press darlings. They won the Polaris Prize in Canada, which is kind of their award of the album with the highest artistic merit of the year. Which is kind of unheard of for a hardcore punk band to win.
They went through two iterations of performing on MTV. The first one was a standard hardcore show where 20 seconds in, the crowd is ripping grates off the wall, Damian’s face gets busted open and is bleeding everywhere, and they banned them from MTV. But then [MTV] denied it when the band came out and said it, so MTV had to go and say, “We’re not owned, we’re not owned. Come back. You can perform in our men’s restroom.”
And so the idea was that they would perform inside a men’s restroom. And the band said, “Well do you know that movie Class of 1984 with Michael J. Fox? There’s cool scenes in the restroom there including a motorcycle, so why don’t we bring a motorcycle into the restroom and we’ll set up and we’ll do the show?” They set up a full three guitars, bass, drum, two vocalists, inside a two-stall men’s restroom, completely plugged in, with a motorcycle parked at the door.
These two hosts that are outside have no idea what they’re in for. They’re poppy, they’re making jokes. Like this is like the primetime show.
The drummer counts them in. Damian takes a mic stand, starts ripping down ceiling tiles, cracking them over his head. The guitarist is tagging the wall with a spraypaint can in the middle of the song. And this is all like ten seconds in.
Then the screen goes black. You think that they’ve probably cut the camera or like something has happened. They’re still playing. It’s completely pitch black. The camera zooms out. They decided to keep the fans who were watching from the doorway out with a bike rack, which was thrown to the side. So now this already crammed bathroom has 15 extra people in it and they’ve hit the light switch with their arms because there’s so many of them, and it’s just pitch black. So the band is performing live TV unable to be seen.
The lights come back on and Mike the guitarist gives Damian that look of like, “uh, are we gonna keep doing this?” They do. Somebody crowd surfs in. The next thing you know, Mike just takes off his guitar while the song’s being played and just leaves, and the rest of the band just try to finish the set.
It is the most absurd thing I’ve seen and it is an all time great television performance.
I saw Fucked Up live sometime after they released The Chemistry of Common Life. It was tame compared to the MTV fiasco. No spraypainted walls, no overturned motorcycle, a dingy club rather than a packed men’s bathroom.
Partway in, Damian ripped off his shirt and leaped into the crowd. I gather that it’s a fixture of their shows. As he neared — hulking, sweaty, roaring into the microphone — my fight or flight instinct kicked in and I made a beeline for the back of the room. I enjoyed the rest of the performance as far as I could get from it. Hardcore punk shows maybe aren’t for me.
The band members were nice. I chatted with a few of them at the merch table. They apologized for being sold out of t-shirts. Apparently they’re a hot item, not only for fans but also people who simply like to wear loud expletives. I wasn’t planning to buy one anyway; I just wanted to tell them that I loved The Chemistry of Common Life. It’s a great album.
YouTube has a recording of the MTV show. I bet it’s memorable for those who were there. I’m glad I wasn’t.
Transcribed from Episode 12, 1:48:32 – 1:51:13. ↩