Fugazi

TrackAlbum / EP
Waiting Room7 Songs EP
Suggestion7 Songs EP
RepeaterRepeater
BlueprintRepeater
Long DivisionSteady Diet Of Nothing
Smallpox ChampionIn On The Kill Taker
Long Distance RunnerRed Medicine
Closed CaptionedEnd Hits
CashoutThe Argument
ArgumentThe Argument

This Playlist is on YouTube
and
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Contributor: Wayne Jessup

Fugazi photo 1

Fugazi (photo Cynthia Connolly)

 

Post hardcore, Fugazi rose from the ashes of Minor Threat, trying to outrun one set of myths, succeeding mostly in building a legacy that was even harder to escape. The Washington, D.C. quartet (Ian MacKaye, Guy Picciotto, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty) kept the Dischord Records flame lit, and by extension, showed that one could mature and grow without sacrificing what to some were pretty cumbersome ideals. While most accounts of the band seem (sometimes wholly) focused on the mythic aspects, the main focus here will be on performance and community, what hopefully will come to be seen as their greatest legacy. For newcomers, the band was famed/imprisoned by the legacy of DIY, playing an abundance of benefit shows, with songs that checked all the politically correct boxes long before that phrase became a stick with which to beat, managing to maintain a $5 ticket price for all ages shows, with $10 CDs and no band-related merchandise, as well as happily providing refunds and escorting to the door folks who acted as jerkfaces to those around them … Worthy and eminently laudable things all, but to some degree have served to obscure the fact that this was one of the great live rock and roll bands that, to their people and subsequent generations, simply mattered.

“Good evening Ladies & Gentlemen, we’re Fugazi from Washington, D.C.” became the post-hardcore “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” … a simple declarative that stood as a seal of quality. The band worked a tightrope, using no set lists, something that became all the more impressive as their catalog grew. A collective groupthink became necessary, an internal communication that didn’t always work, but when it did, provided a jaw dropping roller coaster of sound. It’s worth noting that the (pre-cellphone) audience was a crucial component of their gigs, often spurring the band on to greater heights. In the resource notes below, you’ll find a guide to their live legacy. While on a seeming permanent hiatus, there have been occasional related rumblings around the band, including It’s All True, an NYC opera inspired by the band, based on archival soundchecks and banter, as well as a reappearance of the band’s resolute rhythm section, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, teaming up with DC guitarist Anthony Pirog under the banner of Messthetics. While Fugazi remains dormant, current events being what they are, their catalog is still as relevant as ever, and it’s scary to even begin to contemplate the reunion offers they’ve turned down.

Fugazi photo 2

Fugazi (photo Jem Cohen)

13 Songs is the compilation that memorializes their beginnings, combining their first two EPs 7 Songs and Margin Walker. Waiting Room is a calling card that lays out all to come in its deliberate subversion of hardcore time and space, giving power by emphasizing what’s not played. It’s a master class in tension and release, and would become a reliable paradigm for the band. The emphasis was on personal politics, and it didn’t get any more personal than Suggestion, an indictment of the male gender that gained even more power in performances when the mic was ceded to a guest female vocalist. It was a gauntlet dropped to the subbaculture and, sadly, not only was the memo not received in the underground, but it could be covered today without missing a beat, such is the state of things.

After two EPs, the full-length debut of Repeater pushes things forward, with the title track featuring a hailstorm guitar riff over the engine room of rhythm section Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, brought to the fore here to impressive effect. Blueprint starts with a pensive intro before exploding into a controlled seethe, culminating with the immortal couplet: “Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying”. Less didactic than the Straight Edge ideology of hardcore yore, the philosophy here is offered as an ideal, without the boot to the neck insistence. Long Division, from Steady Diet Of Nothing, sparkles in its sparseness and showed the band embracing shades of gray, pinned by a brooding bass line.

1993’s In On The Kill Taker is arguably their masterpiece, steel burnished to a high sheen, with every song reveling in purpose, extending to the evocative package design. Smallpox Champion offers an off-kilter windup intro, then proceeds to unleash, with great vengeance and furious anger, a forthright indictment of our treatment of the Natives of this country. As to continued relevancy, when I first spotted the silly red baseball caps emblazoned with our current regime’s catchphrase, it was the final line of this song that sprang readily to mind: “Cha … Cha … Cha… Cha … Champions, you’ll get yours!” Subsequent LPs Red Medicine and End Hits maintained the high level, balancing both diatribes and more personal expressions, and the band stretched to the outer limits of noise and space. Red Medicine’s closer Long Distance Runner is the playlist choice, a glimpse at the toll of keeping it going, laid over a dub-noise suite.

This complexity carries over to the similarly themed Closed Captioned from End Hits. Once again, the rhythm section steps forward, anchoring the spacey guitars with rubbery groove. “The imperfections are here to find, if you’re position is so unkind, everything is not alright …” underscores a creeping malaise. Released a month after 9/11, The Argument stands as their finale, a summation gathering all past lessons into their epitaph. Cashout is a restrained damning of urban development at the expense of residence, the band churning beneath. While MacKaye’s vocal delivery in the past fell on a scale between hectoring and screaming, here the approach is downright crooning, setting off the hard truths delivered even more.

The title track forecasts our national dialogue in the heavy shadow of talk radio and a nascent internet, and it didn’t take a philosopher to see that this wasn’t necessarily going to end well. Ominous and measured, MacKaye is singing softly and clearly, letting the bitterness simmer, and just when you expect all hell to break loose, it moves into a bridge reminiscent of a music box, before the guitars kick in, giving way to a coda of ferocity that was all they ever hoped to be, ending precisely on a clipped cymbal hit.

 

 

Fugazi photo 3

Fugazi (l to r): Ian MacKaye (guitar, vocals), Joe Lally (bass), Brendan Canty (drums), Guy Picciotto (guitar, vocals)

 

DEEPER DIGGING

Fugazi Archive at Dischord Records

Fugazi Discography

“Instrument” a film by Jem Cohen

“Keep Your Eyes Open: The Fugazi Photographs” by Glen E. Friedman

Fugazi “stage banter”

Ian MacKaye addresses Cornell Punkfest (2016)

Fugazi first demo (full album)

 

YouTube offers up a treasure trove of live shows

including their final show (audio only)

And their legendary Gulf War protest show in front of the White House (1991)

Plus, an absolutely bonkers show from Brazil (1997)

On a personal note, I found ⅔ of a show that I attended at Ventura Theater, Ventura CA Feb ’99 Part 1 and Part 2

Fan made videos courtesy of YouTube user MaRoZa: Birthday Pony, Strangelight, Long Distance Runner

 

Here’s an Alternative Playlist (aka 11-20)

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Margin Walker (Margin Walker EP)
Furniture (Furniture EP)
Merchandise (Peel Session)
Dear Justice Letter (Steady Diet Of Nothing)
KYEO (Steady Diet Of Nothing)
Public Witness Program (In On The Kill Taker)
Last Chance For A Slow Dance (In On The Kill Taker)
Bed For The Scraping (Red Medicine)
Caustic Acrostic (End Hits)
Epic Problem (The Argument)

If one had to make a single video case for the random unexpected goodness of early YouTube, my go-to choice will eternally remain: “marching band plays fugazi at kickball game”

Fugazi biography (iTunes)

Wayne Jessup (@waj1) can be found at The Owl Mag and Burned All My Notebooks.

TopperPost #724

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