Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Agitated Guitar Music

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 1999 at 12:00 AM

In many ways, the politics of being Fugazi overshadows the band Fugazi. Hailed and revered for its independence, ideals and integrity, Fugazi’s influence can be found throughout the DIY movement that the band helped build and continues to inspire. Forming at a time when Punk and Hardcore in America faced the dilemma of growing up or growing old, the Washington, D.C., quartet somehow found a way to reinvent and reinvigorate the old and helped spearhead a new era in American independent music.

While playing only low-priced, all-ages shows, keeping record prices down, releasing its music on its own label, refusing to merchandise or market itself and lending active support to hundreds of good causes are all admirable and impressive feats, the crux of Fugazi is in the band’s music.

After 10 years, Fugazi continues to progress and change, experimenting with and expanding its sound and upping the emotion, energy and musicianship to a point where the band remains as relevant and as fresh as when it began.

Fugazi marked its 10-year anniversary by playing a show at the same community center where the band debuted. It’s a moment captured on the just-released, two-hour documentary, Instrument, and that film’s companion soundtrack. The film spans Fugazi’s entire time together and was shot over the course of that decade by close friend and collaborator Jem Cohen.

The soundtrack to Instrument is neither a live album nor a full-fledged new Fugazi album. It’s a collection of demos and incidental music written for the film which also offers a new perspective on the band. Most of the songs are instrumental, stripped down and more restrained than usual, but they keep the dynamics and intensity that the band has always built on. The album also brings the focus to the band members’ musicianship. Most of songs rely on the interplay between the instruments, intricately interwoven, rising and falling, expanding and contracting to create brooding atmospheres.

The strength of the rhythm section, while always integral to the band, is the true key here, laying down some real grooves. The dub influence that has always been there in the background is allowed more room up front, which fits well with the more laid-back feel. There are also such new instruments as clarinet and piano, which find their way into the mix with little trouble and great results. One unexpected highlight comes on "I’m So Tired," a quiet, road-weary piano ballad sung by Ian McKaye. It’s the kind of song no one would expect from McKaye, yet it fits perfectly with the record’s tone. It is followed with an almost subconsciously quiet reading of guitarist Guy Picciotto’s "Rend It" — a total 180 from the song’s original full frontal assault.

None of Instrument’s 18 tracks are throwaway or stray too far off course and they combine to create a landscape full of the emotion and introspection of looking back, adding a whole new dimension to an already complex group of musicians.

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