Unwound played Irving Plaza – 3/10

Nineties post-hardcore legends Unwound brought their reunion tour to the East Coast for the first of three shows at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza.


Everything about seeing Unwound on stage in 2023 felt unreal.

For myself, and any other fan who came of age after the band’s 2002 dissolution, chances of their reunion felt akin to a reconvening of Fugazi or a completed new Wrens album – not fully outside the realm of possibility, but pretty profoundly unlikely. And technically of course, it never did happen. Any hope of seeing the band’s core trio together again ended with the death of bassist Vern Rumsey in 2020. From there, singer/guitarist Justin Trosper and drummer Sara Lund were left with the weighty decision of whether to make a series of live shows – long-planned but held back by Rumsey’s personal struggles, as revealed in a heartbreaking interview with Pitchfork last year – happen with someone new in the fold.

The road back was not an easy one, but here, twenty-plus years after the final shows of their initial run, were a new iteration of Unwound, on stage in New York City before a packed-in crowd who could hardly believe their eyes.

In an even more surreal twist, it was actually my second Unwound show of the year, following a trip out to L.A. for the Numero Group’s 20th anniversary fest. That hardly dampened the mystique of it all, though. Whereas the band’s set at Numero Twenty was beholden to the strict start-stop timing of a five-band bill, the Friday night Irving Plaza gig – the band’s first on the East Coast since the reunion – was a much more sprawling affair. An extended introduction darkened the stage and looped an automated flood warning announcement, portending a storm, before Trosper, Lund and new additions in bassist Jared Warren and guitarist Scott Seckington took the stage for the first of two sets.

Amid a sea of bands adjacent to the post-hardcore and noise rock scenes, of their own era and that of today, Unwound’s feedback-drenched snarl always stood out, unmistakably itself. And from the first notes of “All Soul’s Day,” it was present, undiminished, across 90 minutes of the band’s influential and indispensable catalog. Trosper and Lund have kept the fire of these songs burning, and locked into them with a steely intensity that longtime associates and collaborators Seckington and Warren organically rounded out. The former added depth to Trosper’s signature guitar squalls, while the latter did justice to the distinctive style of Rumsey’s playing, filling those shoes as best as anyone could.

With the two-set structure, the band were naturally able to cover some ground, touching on each of their studio releases (apart from the pre-Lund self-titled) and making welcome space for a pair of Leaves Turn Inside You cuts that hadn’t made the L.A. setlist. Leaves, the band’s dense and genre-bending 2001 swan-song, is all-time favorite record of mine, and while it understandably wasn’t practical to recreate many of those songs in this iteration (they were a five-piece including original drummer Brandt Sandeno on keys and samples to get it right for the supporting tour), finally hearing “Look a Ghost” and the throat-shredding “Scarlette” live was nothing short of life-affirming.

The night’s second set concluded, as each show on this run has, with Fake Train‘s three-part “Valentine Card”/”Kantina”/”Were Are and Was or Is” suite, dedicated to Rumsey by Trosper in one of his few addresses to the crowd. Careening from a shouted lyric over a churning bassline towards a hypnotic, contemplative burnout, the piece encapsulates all of the tension and bombast that made Unwound such a force, in their heyday and still in the present.

It’s unclear at this point how much of a future exists for the band as an active unit – their last scheduled U.S. gigs took place in Philly last week – but even if the spark was reignited for just this brief flash, I’m profoundly grateful to have seen it. I suspect that feeling resonates for anyone who made it to these shows.

Scroll below for a gallery from the night, including some shots of extremely-thrilled-to-be-there openers Horsegirl.