Dischord Records founder and singer/guitarist Ian MacKay started out in one of the best hardcore punk bands of the early 1980s. Minor Threat was a minor miracle, a speedy, straight-edge outfit with morals galore and hooks to boot. With only one EP and one full-length album to its credit, the band was semi-legendary even while it still existed. Drummer Brendan Canty's and singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto's pedigree came as members of Rites of Spring, one of the bands responsible for originating the punk subgenre of emo. The two bands virtually single-handedly put the Washington, D.C. punk scene on the map.
In 1987 the three joined forces with Joe Lally to form Fugazi, which released its debut EP in late 1988. It was the beginning of a virtual revolution.
The band arguably invented the post-hardcore punk sound that has become synonymous with D.C., but its tentacles have stretched globally, influencing pretty much every punk band in existence today, be it musically, ideologically, or both. In fact, throughout its existence the band's conscience has become as revered as its music. The group exclusively plays all-ages venues (often YMCAs and the like), so that anyone who wants access to its performances gets it, and gets it cheap. Fugazi has become known over the years to insist on a $5 ceiling on its ticket prices (as if the band finally looked up the word "inflation" in the dictionary, this week's Tucson show runs six bucks), and it will sell no CD for more than $10. To ensure that retailers don't mark up their product more than that, the band prints mail-order info on the outside jacket of each of its releases ("This CD is $8 postpaid from Dischord Records"). As such, it has provided a blueprint of Do-It-Yourself methods of distributing its work, picked up on by any artist that has ever self-released its recordings.
The group has championed feminist causes (one of its earliest and most beloved songs, "Suggestion," was sung from a woman's point of view, and addressed issues of objectification--a far cry from the rampant misogyny present in much of today's aggro rock), railed against corporate values (or lack thereof), and decried the style-over-substance ideal that runs rampant in modern American consumerist culture. It bucks the common idea of mosh pits as a healthy way to vent aggression, banning them entirely at its shows.
And speaking of its shows, I don't care how many Fugazi records you own, if you've never seen the band live, you've been missing out on an integral part of why Fugazi is Fugazi. The group is as explosive a live band as you'll ever witness. Ian MacKaye regularly stops shows in mid-action when the crowd gets too rowdy, offering shit-disturbers their money back if they'll kindly exit through the doors.
At one show I attended several years back, a young rowdy relentlessly taunted the band with cries of "sell-out!" until finally MacKaye singled him out and asked him to come up onstage. "You've been calling us sell-outs all night long, and I just want to know why," he calmly remarked, and thrust the microphone in said thorn-in-side's face. As the other kids in the crowd thrust the middle finger at the offender, MacKaye calmly chided, "Please don't do that." Anyway, the kid, mic in face, froze up and began stammering a bunch of nonsense about how cool Fugazi was when they first started out, but now --. The kid was given his money back, and you know the rest of the story.
The band has given hope to the ideological masses who believe that selling out is sacrilege, that yes, you can go through life with your morals intact and still remain important and even vital. In short, by eschewing traditional rock star values and behavior, Fugazi has, by creating its art on its own terms, become, well, rock stars.
Witness Fugazi along with opener Las Sinfronteras at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $6 at Toxic Ranch Records. For more information call 798-3333 or 884-0874.
RHINE GOLD: Cincinnati's Over the Rhine combines the ethereal qualities of '80s 4AD bands or Sarah McLachlan with adult contemporary hip-hop beats (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing) and pure singer/songwriterism. The duo--Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler--has found fans in former tourmates Cowboy Junkies, Emmylou Harris and Jane Siberry, and has just released a new album, Films for Radio (Back Porch), that has been attracting largely positive attention from the press. Bergquist and Detweiler wrote 10 of the 11 songs on the disc, with the other, focus track, "Give Me Strength," co-written by Dido (and it sounds it).
Over the Rhine appears at 9 p.m. on Monday, April 9 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $7. For more information call 884-0874.