Fugazi’s Treasure Trove Reminder Of Greatness

We have sampled the goods, starting by downloading for $5.00 Fugazi’s great show at Fort Reno from those innocent days of August 2001, and we’re filled with such a mix of joy and frustration.  Joy to hear one of the greatest American bands — and certainly the best band Washington, D.C. has produced — preserved in such incredible sonic purity, to hear a performance we haven’t thought about for years, joy to hear them out of their coma state and alive and kicking.  Frustration that, in no small part because of their glorious perversity, the obstinacy by which they did not play the rock’n’roll game, Fugazi is not today held on a pedestal up there with REM, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Replacements, and all the other American bands that made the ’90s and the ’00s less bad than they really were.  And maybe even more frustration their indefinite hiatus continues, and this is the first “new” music we’ve had from them in nine or so years.  But maybe with the excitement unleashed by Fugazi releasing some 800 live recordings, that will change.

There is a perhaps inadvertently hilarious subhead in the story about these newly released recordings in our local CityPaper, Washington’s great free weekly.  “Fugazi’s unvarnished live archive makes an important revelation: These notorious haranguers played good music, too.”  As if all Fugazi’s remembered for is their social activism, their unwillingness to accept more than $5.00 per concert.  Pearl Jam led a brief rebellion against Ticketmaster but now charge $50 per ticket; Fugazi went them, and every one else, several steps further, controlling all means of production, all pricing.  (Which led, in part, to why they’re on hiatus: those members of the band with families to support found it increasingly difficult to take such priestly vows and still put bread on the table.)  And yet what Fugazi of course should be remembered for is as one of the most important American bands, ever.

We downloaded the Reno Park concert from 2001 because we loved late Fugazi.  This was a band that went out strong.  We’d go so far as to say that The Argument, their finale — for now? — was our favorite Fugazi album.  We are so not disappointed by this set, by the quality of this recording — amazing!  Fugazi’s rhythm section could swing, Brendan Canty powerful on the tom toms, but also able to play with cat-like lightness, and Joe Lally able to play deep as a dub master and with the bounce of a standup jazz bassist.  The dynamic between Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto wasn’t the typical breakdown of lead and rhythm responsibilities, but two guitarists who could take high and low roads to get to the same place, often clogging the highway like drag racers hurtling along together.  Fugazi could play at a trot, a sprint, and then do a precision dance between raindrops.  What this live set shows is how tight and graceful the band could be.  Go listen to “Cashout,” which began The Argument, not quite a harangue against the gentrification that was beginning to sweep DC’s marginal neighborhoods in 2001.  At Fort Reno, not far from those neighborhoods, the song ripples along with lithe moves that are transformed into steady rollers of noise, an amazing mix of the lightness of being and a thundering dose of hard rock reality.  Then see how they move on “Epic Problem” — there never was a punk band that could could take on such complex time signatures and literally never miss a beat. The whole set is like this.

We are told much of the country hates Washington for what it represents — a corrosive culture, corruption, a lack of integrity.  But in addition to being the Nation’s Capital, Washington is a real city, and a pretty great rock’n’roll town.  Daniel Boorstin was just so wrong with his put down that Washington had no Left Bank.  He wouldn’t have known about Fugazi if he’d tripped over them.  Fugazi was a real band, representing the real city of D.C., and their having emanated from here confounds the narrative about the city.  D.C.’s government may be corrupt — at both the municipal level and all the way to its highest point: the Capitol.  But our representative band from the immediate bygone era, Fugazi was full of integrity — maybe too much to have survived as a functioning band for this length of time .  They were also one of the undisputed great acts of our age, playing real and thrilling rock’n’roll music.  We are delighted to find out that Fugazi is flooding the zone with so much live music to choose from, 14 years worth of concerts.  If they all thrill like this first sample, Straight Core sensibilities notwithstanding, we can see getting addicted.

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