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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

photo courtesy of
Bryan Whitson

Concerts in Zen series, pt. I
Fugazi – Three Times Live

I've been milling about how to begin this series, wondering if I should place some significance upon the first live show I recount in blog form. Such milling is the stuff of delay, which is partly why it's taken me three weeks to get this far. I figured I'd take the first one on the list of songs I've been able to assemble, with implied permission from the artists.

I've seen Fugazi three times in three very different venues. And, for the sake of history, I'll reference with an "honorable mention" a fourth show that I should have seen except I was too stupid to realize what I was missing in 1993. The shows were:
    • USM Sullivan Gym, Portland, Maine, April 8, 1995
      Malcolm X (Meridian Hills) Park, Washington D.C., September 29, 1996
    • The Asylum, Portland, Maine, July 27, 1998
    • The Fore St. Warehouse, Portland, Maine, September 14, 1993 (Hon. Mention)
By way of background, Fugazi is/was Ian MacKaye on vocals and guitar, Guy Picciotto similarly on vocals and guitar; Joe Lally on bass; and Brendan Canty on drums. I say "was" because MacKaye has apparently thrown his energy into touring as half of a duo called The Evens.

The Evens performed at at
Space in Portland last month. BDN Blog Artist Emily B chatted up the Evens show >here.

photo courtesy of
Bryan Whitson

But I digress …

I'll spare you any spin on the Minor Threat-Fugazi-Evens lineage, as I suspect that I cannot say anything that isn't posted on either this official
the Dischord band page or World of Fugazi, a pretty complete fan page.

It should suffice to say that Fugazi is a high-energy punkish quartet from Washington D.C. that formed out of the detritus of MacKaye's 1980s hardcore punk troupe, Minor Threat. Emily B aptly labels MacKaye's music, evolving from Minor Threat through Fugazi, as "socially conscious and full of righteous anger."

This all manifested as DIY/ do it yerselph, which is only now such a junky phrase because of its hugeness more than a decade ago. The idea that artists could control their own creative license, protect their own musical freedom and property interests merely required them to run their own labels. Enter
Dischord Records, which along withSST Records and Sub-Pop, spearheaded the Indie Label movement that pushed so many now-legendary acts out of obscurity and into the pop landscape.

photo courtesy of
Steven W

Or something …

So Fugazi exercised this
DIY mantra partly by holding to a policy of pricing concert tickets and CDs as low as would still permit a fair dividend for the band and critical support folks. I believe I paid $5 for tickets to both of the paid shows noted, and recall paying $10 at Bull Moose for both
Repeater Plus 3 songs and
13 Songs, many moons ago. I mean, why buy used?

And, as for their live performances, I'll refer you to
this description offered by some English guy:
For those of you not familiar with the Fugazi live ethos – I shall briefly fill you in: Fugazi never use a setlist – having over 90 songs to their repertoire, they feed off the vibe of the crowd, playing which songs fit the moment. Second guitarist/singer, Guy Picciotto has a condition known as Red Mist Syndrome causing the sufferer to get lost in the music, throwing themselves around uncontrollably as if possessed – quite a spectacle I should imagine. Fugazi believe that everyone should enjoy the show equally, so woe betide anyone who crowd-surfs/moshes/stage-dives. Ian MacKaye (singer/guitarist) has been known to hike offenders out the audience and make them apologise to the crowd. I find this somewhat refreshing as I hate nothing more than when I'm trying to watch a band, a Size 11 DM boot comes crashing into the back of my head from some fat bastard who thought it would be a good idea to see if people could support his weight …

photo courtesy of
Steven W

Discord has commercially released several Fugazi's performances for purchase through
Fugazi Live Series. Check it out. I think I might pick up one of the Fort Reno Park shows, as those seem more likely to be like the Malcolm X park performance than anything else I can find. Sure, there's none of the strange irony underlying the remarks by the NORML activists who got to play promoters for the day, but no matter …

First: the NORML show ….

I found scant archival internet information about this show … or at least, consistent information. I note the contradiction that first struck me when I read about the upcoming free benefit performance in the newspaper. The notoriously
straight edge MacKaye and Co. signed on to play a summertime Saturday afternoon set in support of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in its "Rally to End the Drug War." And that's how I remembered it, as memorialized here:
And yet, most band archives of the performance list the show as a "Welfare Bill Protest." Hmmm … sounds like a straight-edge, revisionist historian plot to me.

Good thing the city's
paper of record don't lie. From:
The Washington Post
September 27, 1996, Friday
By Eric Brace
Fugazi puts their muscle where their morals are with a concert Sunday at 2 at Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. They're the musical part of a "Rally to End the Drug War" that also features speakers from the ACLU, the Coalition to End Gun Violence and other groups (703/276-9768).
It was a decent show … especially considering the price and the brilliant experience of seeing a band you love, outdoors, in a city park just a short jaunt from a subway stop. So urban. So progressive. The only songs that stand out in memory are Facet Squared and Smallpox Champion, both of which from the 1993 In on the Kill Taker CD.

I have no recordings to share from the NORML show, but I found an outdoor, live version of
Song Number One, recorded at Washington D.C.'s Fort Reno Park, on July 1, 2002. More information and songs from the 2002 Fort Reno Park show can be accessed here.

Regarding the Portland shows …

Of the three shows, I only found a review of the
USM Portland Gym show. I looked for more through the CBW and Portland Press Herald archives, but found nothing more than a passing reference to the 1998 Asylum show. However, the June 1995 review/interview was published in the now-defunct online music site Addicted to Noise. It includes some nice bits, such as:
It is a moon-lit night in Portland, Maine, on 9 April 1995. The doors to the University of Southern Maine gym, where Fugazi is set to play, are still locked. A huge crowd spreads out into the parking lot, spilling over onto the grass. The full moon above casts moving shadows of masses of expectant people over the ground.

Inside the gym, a few people milling about. It is quiet. The proverbial eye of the tornado. Soon this room will be full of over fifteen hundred fans; the walls and floors will literally be quaking to the sound of Fugazi.

If the spirit of rock & roll still lives, breathes, and kicks ass, it definitely rides shotgun with Fugazi. A live show by Fugazi is an emotionally powerful, hard-core tour de force; and the audience, who crowd up against the stage once they are let in, know it. And then they are there, taking over the stage the stage, exploding into their set with remarkable fervor and power. The electricity courses through the air. I experience the impact first hand from inside the line of a roll of crepe paper that stretches from each side of the stacks to the wall and serves as an extemporaneous crowd barrier, a reminder to the fans to leave a little air between themselves and the stage.
And note this interview excerpt, which references the 1993 Fore Street Warehouse show, which I was too ig'nint to attend:

Ian MacKaye: Maine is a very fucking extreme place man. These kids are just amped. It makes me nervous because the stage is not very stable, the stacks definitely aren't very stable. The stage can move back like 10 feet so. I'm a little nervous about that. Last time we were here we had problems with some particular thugs. Well, the kids don't look very thuggish this time.

I don't know if you were at that warehouse gig [Fugazi's last performance in the area, about a year ago, at the Warehouse].
ATN: No. I know it was out near the Eastern promenade. You sold that show out.

MacKaye: I don't remember [if we sold out that show]; it was a lot of people. …
Well, neither do I … 'cause I wasn't there. Naw, I ain't angry. Just sad. Luckily, I did settle in for the booby prize two years later, catching them on in a gym on my little heralded college Portland campus – a gym so small and unadorned that the college's division III basketball teams don't even play there. Didn't way back then, either. The fact that some booking agent thought this sweat-stunk dungeon was the best place to display these acts defies logic … much like everything else happening in Portland in the mid-90s.

So then, the music …

I haven't acquired any recordings from the USM Gym show in 1995, but
this version of Facet Squared was recorded at NYC's Irving Plaza four days earlier on April 5, 1995. For more on the Irving Plaza show, see here.

Nor I have anything that commemorates the setlist from the Asylum snow. This
version of Repeater at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, recorded on May 3, 1997, is pretty strong, though. For more on the Philly show, see here.

I do recall from the Asylum show a driving version of
Merchandise (not that there is such a thing as a limp version of that song). Yet, it stands out in part because I underwent the humbling experience of realizing that the lyric is "You are not what you owe," rather than "You are not what you own …." This isn't the most egregious example of the "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" phenomenon, as described. here, but as humbling as the realization that I shared with my buddy Andy (in green) that we were about 10 years older than anyone else moshing around in front of the stage …

That is, anyone other than Ian and Co.

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Anonymous Packy (AKA Andy) said...

I feel honored to have gotten a shout out. Just like the saying goes, get stinking drunk while dressed as an elf once and it haunts you for a lifetime. I think that's something like how it goes.

9:00 AM

Blogger wooferboomus said...

What are the chances that I would stumble across this blog posting? Not only was I at the Fugazi show in the USM gym, I actually planned the show.

I was writing this post about it on my own blog, and I figured I'd Google it to see if there was anything else about it online.

In my defense, it was a sweat-stunk dungeon, but it was the only venue they could find at the time. The Fore Street warehouse wasn't available, so they ended up contacting me at USM.

Great show, though. More about it on my blog.

11:40 AM


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