Downed City Rise: Fugazi, Jasaga, Lucy Murphy, and a bit of politics

The last time I saw Fugazi, it was almost exactly two years ago, when I first moved to DC. At this time, I had no clue who they were. The free concert they played was the catalyst that made me check out not just the band, but its predecessors Minor Threat, and the DC punk scene itself. Today, they played a free concert at the National Monument in DC and this time I went prepared.

In the review I wrote when I saw Fugazi the first time, I put them in a box labelled "punk bordering on industrial". Now that I am more familiar with their music, particularly their new stuff, I think Fugazi tip the balance toward the industrial side. By industrial, I don't mean repetitive beats and poppy melodies mixed with a few samples that categorise the mainstream today. By industrial I mean the old school kind, the postmodern deconstruction of music, pioneered by groups like Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubaten. Watching and listening to Fugazi slam about their guitars and drums to produce waves of dissonance and cacophony brings to mind Einstürzende Neubaten using concrete blocks, power drills, and electric saws to make Noise.

This description might tempt one to lump Fugazi with other punk bands that subsitute brazenness for virtuousity. To the contrary, if anything, their latest Red Medicine album indicates that Fugazi have matured a lot musically. Their sonic experimentation reminds me more of King Crimson, John Cage, and Einstürzende Neubaten, than it does the Sex Pistols, the Clash, or the Ramones. Live, they were aggressive and passionate. The rhythmic jerking of Ian MacKaye and the reckless abandon by Guy Picciotto enhanced the sonic bombardment. Joe Lally's bass was solid and Brendan Canty's drumming was tight and they both laid a solid foundation as MacKaye and Picciotto meandered around violently. This was topped off with terse vocals and syncopated rhythms. After seeing this, I'm convinced Fugazi could easily put together a full theatrical production armed with this sonic array, as the Einstürzende Neubaten have.

At the beginning of the show, Ian MacKay arranged for two girls to be married on stage, while he espoused family values to a real punk wedding. They then opened with Combination Lock and went on to play (from memory) Do You Like Me?, Bed for the Scraping, Birthday Pony, Forensic Scene, Fell, Destroyed, Long Distance Runner, Smallpox Champion, Sweet and Low, and Instrument.

Jasaga and Luci Murphy opened. Jasaga (whose real name is David ??? (I missed the last name)) played four songs with an acoustic guitar. They were pretty decent, especially in lyrical content. Luci Murphy, who I had seen a bit of at the Adams Morgan festival, played the popular Bourgeois Blues and her version of Hit the Road, Jack called Marching for Freedom. I thought she and her backing band did a pretty decent job.

The crowd, which seemed to be made up of people of all ages and all hair colours, turned out in pretty large numbers, filling the lawn all the way to the monument. They were pretty well behaved and I didn't even notice a single cop. There was little moshing.

The concert was a benefit held by Positive Force DC, a group trying to initiate a radical change in the way the government and society works. While Positive Force seems to have a good handle on the problems, I do not particularly think much of the way it wishes to implement its solutions. Some of the issues discussed at the concert included the drug-war, which has resulted in a zero-tolerance policy for needle exchange programs and thus is destructive to the control of HIV. An interesting item of protest was regarding the sentencing passed on to drug dealers and drug users. These sentences penalise even first time offenders with several years in prison. Personally, I think given overpopulation, society is headed to a point where the job that most people in the future will have is working in a prison system which separates the haves from the havenots. I don't approve of this situation, but this is where I think it's headed. I am in favour of an anarchistic solution (not to be misunderstood as chaotic, but rather to be understood as the result of application of bottom-up rules) and am against a top-down approach, whether it is used by the government or an organisation with noble aims.

I was not in the mood to mix music and political messages, but I thought that Positive Force did a pretty good job in raising the general awareness of the people present there, and maintaining their interest. If you're interested in getting involved, and you're in DC, call (703) 276-9768.

Music ramblings || Ram Samudrala || September 17, 1995