Fugazi on stage in 2000. Naki/Redferns
Fugazi, the pioneering punk band from Washington, D.C., played its final shows in 2002. In their decade and a half together, the group's members — singer-guitarists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty — played more than 1,000 dates across the U.S., Europe, South America, Asia and Australia, most of which cost $5 or less to get into.
What's less widely known is that many of those shows were recorded by the band's sound engineers and carefully filed away. On Thursday, Dischord Records, the label founded by MacKaye in 1980, launched the Fugazi Live Series: an online archive of 800-plus live recordings from the band's collection, to be released in installments. In keeping with tradition, fans can download each show for $5 each — or set their own price if they choose.
Even for the most diehard fan, 800 concerts is a lot to sift through. To give listeners some entry points, The Record asked members of the band, the staff at Dischord, and figures from the D.C. music scene to tell us about the moments they remember best from Fugazi's live career.
Singer and guitarist, Fugazi
I'm interested in documentation. My mother used to just run a Panasonic cassette deck in the house and record us kids coming and going, people talking, people arguing, whatever. I still have about 200 of the tapes that she made. When she died, I realized those tapes weren't even for her — they were for us to have.
In Fugazi's case, the documentation was inadvertent. Our sound guy, Joey Picuri, who started traveling with us in 1989, would make recordings of our shows for fun. We told him, "You can record us, but we never want the documentation to interfere with the moment." We did a show once in Austin where this guy had a stereo mic set up on a tree, and he stood right in the middle of the crowd holding it. I was like, "You know I'm going to tell you to move. Why should the rest of the crowd have to look at your microphone?" But with Joey, we were like, "Just run the tape, and we're not even going to think about it."
There's no editing on these recordings — we don't cut stuff out. So if there's a 15-minute break in the action while a guitar amp is fixed, or I'm out pulling a security guy off of a kid or something, you hear that. When we say something humiliating, which we did quite often, that's on the tape. If the cops cut the show off, that's on the tape. If the tape runs out, if we play a bad note ... it's all there.
Ian MacKaye examines some fan-submitted live photos in his home office.
Ian MacKaye examines some fan-submitted live photos in his home office. Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
Fugazi live engineer (1989-96)
I always recorded every band I worked with, just because I like to record, so when I got on board with Fugazi it was a natural thing. Even though they had that crazy independence and that streak of rebellion, everyone had enough focus to know we had to prepare for out-of-the-ordinary situations. That's where they liked to venture — they'd want to play a weird VFW hall in Columbia, S.C., because they wanted the kids there to see them. And those gigs always had dreadful PAs, no stage, horrible conditions ... so I tried to be as prepared as possible — even to throw a mic up with a portable cassette player if I couldn't plug in all my gear. We did a show in Belfast one time where we missed the ferry from the U.K. and got there 15 minutes after we were supposed to be on stage. And I still recorded that one. I don't think I missed any.
Singer and guitarist, Wild Flag
Formerly of the Dischord band Autoclave (1990-91)
I saw one of Fugazi's first shows in a church basement on 16th Street NW in 1987, when I was 17. I remember being totally blown away, and looking around at other people in the audience and seeing this amazed, captivated look on their faces. For the next few years, while I still lived in D.C., I went to see Fugazi almost every time they played. I tried to learn how to be in a band from watching them, but their music and energy were so far beyond anything I could ever imagine being capable of imitating. The music was angular, emotional, necessary and urgent. Fans danced on stage — everyone was a participant. I remember looking up at one show and seeing condensed human sweat dripping down the walls.
I remember a lot of sweaty, combustible shows, but the worst was in Gainesville, Fla. We played in a grange hall that was not only not air conditioned, but the promoters kept the doors and windows closed out of fear that the neighbors would shut things down. I remember the sight of two kids' noses gushing blood — then my vision went all fuzzy, and I fell off my drum stool and briefly passed out. I spent the rest of the night miserable and exhausted, pleading with my eyes for us to stop playing. But Guy and Ian were happy as clams, shirts off and dancing, and had us play what seemed like the longest set of our lives. They are truly gluttons for punishment.
Courtesy of Dischord Records
Detail of the flyer from Fugazi's first show in 1987.
Detail of the flyer from Fugazi's first show in 1987. Courtesy of Dischord Records
Lead singer and guitarist, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Formerly of the D.C.-based band Chisel (1990-97)
The Anthrax in Norwalk, Conn., late 1987 or early 1988: This was one of their first shows ever, and certainly the first time I ever heard anyone suggest that slam-dancing might not the best use of one's energy. I didn't agree at the time, but I did respect the band's wish that the audience not mosh. However, there were some friends of theirs who'd driven up from D.C. and who were grabbing people in the pit, physically stopping them from dancing. I thought that was ridiculous and thuggish, if not downright fascist (in the language of 17-year-old me, which is not a whole hell of a lot different from that of 41-year-old me), and at least as bad as the negative aspects of slamming itself.
I told Ian that, in a letter I wrote him in red ink. He wrote back and explained that those friends had come of their own accord; that he hadn't seen them restraining people and didn't condone it. He also explained a little bit more what was behind this "no slam dancing" idea — which, you have to realize, was insanely radical in the punk world at the time. Years later, after I'd moved to D.C. and we'd become friends, he put two and two together and assured me that he still has my letter. He's occasionally threatened to embarrass me by whipping it out — but I wouldn't be embarrassed. I'm pretty proud of the both of us for the whole interaction!
Maxwell's in Hoboken, N.J., summer 1988: The usual confrontations with the crowd over slamming came to a head toward the end of the quiet breakdown in the song "Suggestion." The walls were dripping with sweat and practically heaving, as if the room was the interior of a giant heart, beating through the most important hour of its life, and Ian said something simple like, "Here comes the breakdown." And an angry skin in the middle of the pit said back, "Can we dance to this part?" Ian looks him in the eye and says, rising from a spoken question to a scream, moving upward as the music surges to a crescendo along with his voice, "Why don't you listen for JUST! ONE! SECOOOOOOOOOOND!" They crashed into the chorus off that, and the room exploded. Incidentally, this was the show that the cover photo for the first album came from.
Courtesy of the artist
The cover of Fugazi's 1990 debut album, Repeater.
Co-founder of Positive Force, a social activism group formed by members of the D.C. punk community in 1984
There are some great performances of "Suggestion," but I don't think there's any version better than the one they played Dec. 29, 1988, at the Wilson Center. We had been doing benefit shows there with Fugazi for about 15 months, and the last one had drawn about 500 people. At this one, we were swamped. I really have no memory of the opening bands playing, because we were just desperately trying to deal with this crowd, which ended up being about 1,000 people. Suddenly, Fugazi had just taken off.
"Suggestion" started with Amy Pickering [of the D.C. hardcore band Fire Party] singing the opening part. When Ian assumed the lead vocal role, he started into a bit of a soliloquy about something that was on his mind. A week before the show, there had been an article in The Washington Post about white-power skinheads and their relative absence in D.C. Leaders of the skinhead community were quoted, saying how proud they were to have chased that element out of town. But they also talked about queer-bashing — attacking gay people, particularly gay men around Dupont Circle and P Street Beach. And what was astonishing and heartbreaking for us was that they justified it. They distinguished that violence from their opposition to white power. Ian had seen the article, I had seen it, and we had come to the same conclusion: This is bull——. So Ian took that on directly. He turned a song that's usually about rape, and specifically women's experience, into a song about gay men getting attacked in the park at night. And the response of the crowd was just over the top.
Singer and guitarist, Fugazi
There is one show that I wish was in the archive but we don't have: Nov. 11, 1993, at a place in Perth, Australia called Club O.
It was the first show of our 1993 Australian tour, and we did, in fact, scrupulously tape the gig using a brand-new portable DAT machine that we had purchased in the States just prior to leaving. Our sound guy Joey Picuri had hooked it up to the board as per usual and recorded the whole set, only to find at the end of the night that someone had stolen the recorder, with the tape still inside, right off the sound board. It had been a pretty packed room and fairly chaotic, so it wasn't that surprising that someone had managed to grab the thing and abscond with it. Still, we were a pretty vigilant bunch, and in the history of the band we didn't get ripped off that often, so each stolen item still feels fresh and raw in my memory. There was a stage monitor in Ohio, and my white Gibson SG Junior in New York City, which also stand out. But that situation in Perth still feels especially galling: The equipment was replaceable, but the tape was one of a kind. Not that the show was super-epic or notably awful — it's just that it's like someone tearing a page out of your diary and throwing it in the trash. It's just wrong.
Anyway, in case the thief in question happens to come upon this piece somehow, let it be known that we are extending a Fugazi-guaranteed amnesty. If the tape is returned to us at Fugazi c/o Dischord Records, 3819 Beecher Street, Washington, D.C. 20007, USA, we won't report you to the relevant authorities in Perth and there will be no questions asked — that is our promise.
David "Spoonboy" Combs
Singer and guitarist, The Max Levine Ensemble
A few of the hundreds of tapes recorded on the road by Fugazi's sound engineers.
A few of the hundreds of tapes recorded on the road by Fugazi's sound engineers. Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
Fugazi used to play an outdoor show every year at Fort Reno, as part of a free concert series the park puts on every summer. It was well known that whenever Fugazi played outdoors, the gods took notice and plagued us all with rain. The band would always put forth its best effort, though, and when I showed up in the summer of 2000, I was up happy to see huge umbrellas protecting their equipment. They rocked out even as the rain started. During a particularly epic buildup in the song "Turnover," the clouds started to grumble intensely — then right at the climactic point, lightning lit up the sky and struck not far behind them. I couldn't believe it. I'd gone to the show by myself, and for years after that I thought back to the moment and wondered if it had actually happened, since I had no one to corroborate my story. Then, one day, I overheard a friend talking about Fugazi and saying, "Then, right at the end of the buildup, lightning struck!" Finally, I had confirmation.
Live Series mastering and editing engineer
Fugazi percussionist and roadie (1995-2002)
I moved to D.C. when they were just forming the band, and actually auditioned to be the drummer while Brendan was kind of noncommittal about it. I had just started learning how to play, so most of my audition was spent with Ian and Joe teaching me how to set up my drums properly. I ended up roadie-ing for the band starting in '95, and went on to play drums and percussion and trumpet. I toured with them for almost eight years.
As anyone who's done a fair amount of touring can tell you, shows do end up becoming a little bit of a blur. And when Fugazi were a functioning, current band, they didn't really get into nostalgia — they were always looking forward. So mastering tapes has been like going through a scrapbook for me. There's a show that was on my birthday — they have a song called "Walken's Syndrome," but Guy introduced it that night as "Busher's Syndrome."
One of the exciting things about the site going live is, we're probably going to patch some holes. Fugazi always allowed people to record shows and take photographs, as long as it didn't seem like it was some professional company that was going to put out a bootleg or something. If it was a kid that wanted to record a show, they would just let him do it. So some shows that we don't have copies of, people are probably going to send. It's already starting to happen.