Gritty Banter: Having Fun On Stage With Fugazi

One non-sucky aspect of being a relatively old fart: getting to see Fugazi play live several times during their fiercest years. Now, nobody’s saying these four guys aren’t still fierce as hell; they surely are. But a live Fugazi show circa early ’90s was post-hardcore baptism by fire.

Fugazi, 1988, Philly. The early days! [via sgustilo]

A bit of background on the band for the uninitiated: Fugazi formed in Washington D.C. in 1987. Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto on guitar and vocals. Joe Lally on bass. Brendan Canty drumming. The music, which evolved tremendously over the decades, is a singular, dynamic mix of punk rock, hardcore, anthemic guitar rock, noise, soul, and more dissonant, experimental elements. They toured extensively for many, many, MANY moons before going on indefinite hiatus in 2002. Fugazi has my vote for the most resolutely DIY, ethically upstanding band that’s ever existed. From Wiki:

Fugazi’s early tours earned them a strong word-of-mouth reputation, both for their powerful performances, and for their eagerness to play in unusual venues. They sought out alternatives to traditional rock clubs partly to relieve the boredom of touring, but also hoping to show fans that there are other options to traditional ways of doing things. As Picciotto said, “You find the Elks Lodge, you find the guy who’s got a space in the back of his pizzeria, you find the guy who has a gallery. Kids will do that stuff because they want to make stuff happen.”

Yes. Very true. Motivated kids will do just about anything to make stuff happen. And when you’re young and scrappy, you’ll also endure a lot to see live music. I loved certain bands so much, I’d go to all ages shows and cheerfully risk being crushed, clocked in the head, kicked ’til bloody or used as a footstool by crowd-surfing, slam-dancing goons twice my size. Like so many punk babies I know must be reading and remembering, I was game. At that age, you just want to get as close to the music as possible. Even so, gnawing one’s way out of Broheim Armpit/Knuckle/Knee Forest always gets old after ten minutes, tops.

It never occurred to me that shows didn’t have to be that way. I thought, “this is how these things are, it’s part of the experience.” I was just happy to be there.

But the wise, worldly fellas in Fugazi? They weren’t fucking having it.

[click below to read more]

Ian MacKaye in particular became notorious for his onstage rants against slam-dancing and violence of any kind, which the band felt was a vestigial tradition from the late 70s hardcore scene. They’d often leave the house lights up so they could stay more visually connected to the crowd. If they saw somebody throw a punch, or a kid slumping over with a bloody face, the show would come to a grinding halt. Ian, or Guy, or both, would deliver a passionate Punk Rock Public Service Announcement. “There’s no punching at these shows. We do not provide a soundtrack for violence.” On occasion, Fugazi would ever go so far as to personally escort a stubborn slam-dancer out of the venue, handing them an envelope containing a $5 refund. (Thanks to Fugazi’s DIY philosophy, their shows usually only cost about five bucks.) Hecklers of all stripes were brilliantly and ruthlessly dealt with.

First and foremost, I was there for the music, but I’d be lying if I said that their tirades didn’t often end up being even more memorable. Some found their lectures sanctimonious and preachy. Others, like myself, were deeply grateful.

Musician and longtime Fugazi fan James Burns has offered up a fantastic mp3 of banter from Fugazi’s live shows compiling some of Ian and Guy’s most hilarious and scathing commentary. Click here to listen to 45 minutes of entertaining discourse on hecklers, mindless crowd violence, sexism in the scene, Ben Gay abuse, bonobo chimp sociology, the democratic process, robot tuna, coccix injury, yo yo yo yo yo’s,  and of course, Guy’s amazing “ice cream-eating motherfuckers” rant, immortalized in the Fugazi documentary, Instrument.

James, man. Thank you for this. (And cheers to veteran Bawlmer hardcore brat Joshua Z-P for the heads up.) Made my day.

7 Responses to “Gritty Banter: Having Fun On Stage With Fugazi”

  1. James Reffell Says:

    I was at the ice-cream eating motherfuckers concert. Free show at the tiny Ft. Reno stage next to my high school, summer after my senior year. It was a magnificent show, and the rant was perfect (among other things, it worked — those guys were totally abashed and there was no more fighting). I told that story for years before I found out it was in a documentary.

    I think that was the same show where the band just stopped dead in the middle of a song. The audience was confused until one hand reached out from the pit and put a pair of glasses on a stage speaker for safe keeping. Then they started up again.

    I do love Fugazi.

  2. Ben Morris Says:

    Fugazi is one of my favorites but I didn’t get into them until just after they stopped touring. I’m enjoying hearing this aspect of what I missed out on (damnit).

  3. rachael Says:

    i was at that show! love fugazi. actually it was ’88 at a ymca :)

  4. alumiere Says:

    I loved Fugazi (and the Allmighty Senators, Strange Boutique, The Skunks, and the other DC area bands who formed the scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s)! It was so amazing to find a place I belonged and an outlet for my anger/energy/etc. I have many fond memories of mosh pits at DC Space and the old 9:30 Club. Being one of the few women bold enough to truly pit, I was none-the-less protected by a group of 6 to 10 huge guys who all took Ian’s rants to heart.

    I miss a good mosh pit, and it saddens me to no end that no-one remembers how to do it right. The last time I truly enjoyed a pit was at the Hocico/Stromkern show at Nation in DC (2003/4?), and even DC had too many kids with no idea how to behave. Once again, I was one of the few women in the pit, (and I didn’t know they were playing that week, so I was in a floor length vinyl hobble dress and 5″ platforms) but I was not toppled over or smashed because of the Fugazi influence although some of the guys around me took serious hits.

  5. agent double oh-no Says:

    Fugazi’s reputation PRECEDED the band. Being that Minor Threat and Rites of Spring had big followings, Fugazi was muchly anticipated in the hardcore world. They had real charisma, almost an angelic, battalion of saints aspect. On those recordings, they still sound so smart, so strong, and so certain of the rightness of their views…

    Being as Minor Threat were one of the first hardcore bands, they helped create the heavy DIY ethic that Ian continued with Fugazi. As for violence, however, the early DC scene had a reputation – Ian included – for being a bit rough with non-straightedge people and bands.

    I saw them on their first three tours. Astounding and IMMEDIATELY influential. Sure, I liked the passion of the pit in the early 80s, but it seemed just a nuisance by the time Fugazi came out.

    Thanks for the memories.

  6. OneOfThem Says:

    Saw Fugazi in Ungdomshuset(The Youthhouse, originally a squatted house that later became ‘the’ alternative venue in Copenhagen, unfortunately it is gone now…) in Denmark it was one hell of a great concert and also one of the few concerts I managed to experience myself as I was working 25/7 as a hardcore activist in the house myself and never had time to see the concerts… he he he… doh…

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