Thursday, December 08, 2011
Players, not orators: The Fugazi Live Series
By now you've likely heard about the bounty that is the Fugazi Live Series. If you're just diving in, allow me to recommend the following shows, which I've been savoring over the past few days:
Kansas City, KS - 8/28/93
Several close friends of mine, then and now, were at this show. I was not yet a Fugazi fan; the conversion process occurred a year or so later, and thus I did not see the band till ’95, when some of those same buddies and I took a train trip to St. Louis to catch a gig. The sound quality on this show is good, not great, but the band plays with a fierce energy (befitting the fact that they were touring behind their most aggressive—and, in my opinion, best, though it's a tough call—album, In On The Kill Taker). Plus there's some tense, pervasive crowd interaction: Basically, Ian wants the house lights on, while certain audience members want them off—so badly that they pass around a petition!
Leeds, UK - 10/31/02
An epic set with absolutely extraordinary sound. Seriously, you've got to hear this. The energy level isn't quite as high as in the ’93 show; you can hear that Guy and Ian have mellowed a tad in the intervening nine years. But the set list is just glorious. To many, Fugazi are some kind of symbol, a political statement rather than a band. But as much as I admire their ethics, that wouldn't mean a thing to me if I didn't celebrate their entire catalog. So the later the date of the show, the richer the performance (this one goes the full distance, from 13 Songs through to The Argument); the band's famous no-set-list policy meant that what you got every night was a one-of-a-kind mixtape. If you tune in now and restrain yourself from taking a peek at the song titles in advance, you get the thrill of hearing that unfold in real time.
The Live Series is a wonderful thing. As much as people are obviously going to focus on all the occasionally hilarious banter in these recordings—I swear, sometimes it almost seems to me like Ian planted an asshole or two in each audience so that he could have someone to reprimand—hopefully it will help shore up Fugazi's musical legacy. They are players, not orators, and their range, craft and technique are all breathtaking. Obviously, the DIY infrastructure the band built around itself is impressive, but in the end, it's just a backdrop to an all-time-great body of work: wrenching ("Blueprint"), funky ("Two Beats Off"), catchy ("Public Witness Program"), bitter ("Shut the Door"), triumphant ("Reclamation"), sultry ("Life and Limb"), heartbreaking ("Sweet and Low"), borderline goofy ("Bed for the Scraping") and sometimes, weird as hell ("Cassavetes," anyone?). Long live ’em.