POP MUSIC REVIEW : Fugazi’s Values Don’t Add Up
In theory, Fugazi’s concert at the Hollywood Palladium should have been one of the top rock events of the year. On paper and by reputation, this Washington quartet is one of the world’s great bands.
But what works great in theory wasn’t quite all it should or could have been in reality Sunday, as Fugazi failed to take the reported power of its intimate club shows up to the scale of the bigger room.
If you follow rock doctrine, you know it’s a people’s art form. And Fugazi, descended from East Coast punk legend Minor Threat, is the ultimate People’s Band. Any alleged blue-collar rockers you’d care to name would have trouble coming close to the credentials of this group.
It charges only $6 a head for concert tickets (about one quarter of the current standard), records and releases its own albums at budget prices, eschews star amenities and show-biz trappings and is indifferent to press coverage.
On top of that, it offers thoughtful, political lyrics and energetic, dynamic music that--though influenced by such earlier didacts as Gang of Four--has its own distinctive aura and largely avoids punk cliches.
It’s rock at a value, and rock with values--a rare combination. Through that, Fugazi has built the kind of following that brought out a capacity 3,600 people Sunday--a mix of punk rank and file, Fugazi loyalists and the merely curious. How could it miss?
There were moments of brilliance in the 100-minute set: bursts of impressively plied noise that rivaled Sonic Youth and a few songs that had almost anthemic qualities. And Guy Picciotto, who shared lead singing duties with leader-guitarist Ian MacKaye, is a dynamic frontman, given to sudden, jerky movements and slinky, occasionally captivating dramatics.
But the band, particularly MacKaye, gave the impression that to actually (pardon the expression) capitalize on those elements would be beneath it. It’s as if the gestures the band makes and the values it stands for should be enough. The problem is that there’s a fine line between having noble motives and being holier-than-thou, self-made martyrs.
MacKaye expressed disdain for the punk antics going on among the people near the stage, who thrashed irrespective of what was happening on stage, no matter whether the band was playing jagged Gang of Four-ish rhythms, speedy rock runs or nearly formless, noisy soundscapes.
MacKaye was right in his put-down observations--the moshing was no different for the subtler variations of Fugazi from what it had been for the more predictable thrash of opening acts 411 and the Offspring. But his attitude smacked of smug superiority, unbecoming one who supposedly covets grass-roots allegiances.
And MacKaye would do well to note how little Fugazi’s music seemed to affect the crowd’s behavior; those who weren’t moshing mindlessly were largely standing like statues, involved at best on a mildly intellectual basis, but not at all on any visceral or physical level. Fugazi on Sunday was humorless, sexless and cold, and those are things that great rock can never be--even in theory.