Video: Fugazi Perform Shut The Door Live at Capital Theatre, WA (1995)
Instrument is a film that puts the spotlight on the enigma that is Washington DC’s Fugazi. Directed by an old school friend of Ian MacKaye independent filmmaker, Jem Cohen (The Best of R.E.M: In View 1988-2003, R.E.M. Parallel, Lucky Three an Elliott Smith Portrait), the film features live performances, interviews, tour footage, studio recordings captured by Cohen and submissions from fans, on super 8, 16mm and video.
Cohen had the foresight to record the band from their inception in 1987, so the footage spans the years of 1987-1998 and is just shy of 2 hours in total (1 hour and 55 minutes to be exact). Edited and funded by Cohen and the members of Fugazi, Instrument was an expensive project but still came in under the budget of most 3-minute music clips!
For those of you uninitiated, Fugazi are a truly incredible 4-piece post-punk band that actually give a shit about their fans. In 1997 I saw them for special price of $15. That is the equivalent of what I would have paid to see a local band! Their albums sell for something in the realm of $10. They are indie in the truest sense, and are my favourite live band ever.
Guy Picciotto, Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat) share vocal and dancing duties, with Ian on lead guitar, with some singing from Joe Lally on bass, and Brendan Canty is out on drums. Everyone always wants to know what the hell the term Fugazi actually means? It was a term that was used during the war by US troops, for a fucked-up situation (Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In = Fugazi).
Instrument provides a glimpse into the very clever and funny guys who make up Fugazi. They take the piss out of all the myths and rumours about the band and how they are incorrectly perceived as living like monks on a steady diet of rice! We observe the band having fun killing time in the studio during the recording of Red Medicine (or slowly going insane, you be the judge!), and Brendan provides a memorable rendition of the song ‘Oh, What a Night!‘
The film captures a brilliant performance of Shut The Door recorded at the Olympia Film Festival, Capitol Theatre, Olympia, Washington (1995), featuring lots of noise, groovy beats and cow bells. How good is Brendan on the cow bells? Followed by footage of Fugazi being interviewed by a young high school student for a public access channel on cable!
We learn that Guy supposedly joined the band shortly after their first live performance back on 3 September 1997, at The Wilson Center, Washington DC. Joe discusses to camera how he is interested in creating music that always excites the listener and that is constantly moving forward. Hence, Fugazi’s nature of pushing boundaries and trying new things.
My favourite part of the film is watching Guy become so enthusiastic with his vocal performance during Glue Man that he somehow manages to climb up a basketball ring and sit in the middle of the ring, upside down while singing! He is that intense, and it brought back fond memories of Guy working the live stage at the Lava Lounge (now The Hi-Fi), Melbourne. In another scene we see Guy crawling around on the floor of the stage, and he becomes rather intimate with a mic stand in another piece of footage!
The hardcore mindset is touched upon explaining how that allowed Fugazi to thrive by following the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ethos, which in turn spurned kids to create fanzines and do their own thing. Ian is said to have started his record label Dischord Records due to his contempt of the record industry, and used DIY as a political gesture against the industry.
Guy tells us that protest music over the last 30 years hasn’t really affected change, and instead Fugazi have chosen to attend protest movement rallies and support political protests with action (rather than just words). However, their anti-commercial message is heard loud and clear in their music, “Never mind what’s been selling. It’s what you’re buying” – Fugazi. The band are also known for being anti-violence, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist. The film shows how the band members monitor the behaviour of the audience at live shows and kick out aggressive fans causing trouble for other patrons.
The band continue to talk about how the point of Fugazi is 4 guys being in a band, basically to play music they enjoy, not to make money. As a fan, I believe it really shows in everything that they do. We learn that Fugazi always improvise their set, and that there is no Fugazi setlist. At any point all band members have to be ready to play any song in their 70-80 song back catalogue!
There is even a quick interview with the band in 1997 from ABC’s Recovery, in which Ian mentions that people always ask him to explain the meaning behind their songs. He points out that the lyrics are always printed so people can read and interpret the meaning themselves. They also talk about how the band feed off the energy in the audience during their live performances.
Fugazi confirm they have played over 800-900 shows, across 35 different countries, and played in every state in the US 5-6 times. We hear that Fugazi were almost addicted to performing live as it gave them the sense of feeling alive.
- Furniture, Montgomery College, Rockville MD, 1988 (featuring the best improv dancers in the world!)
- Slow Dance, Roseland, NYC 1993
- Break, Palladium, NYC 1997
- Glue Man, St. John’s Gym, Philadelphia, PA 1988
The end credits of the film asks us to “Remember: D. Boon & John Cassavetes” – JC.
- Little Flags, film by Jem Cohen (2000)
- Glue Man, film by Jem Cohen (1989)
- Waiting Room, Wilson Center, DC (1988)
- Turnover, Lafayette Park, DC (1991)
- Long Division, DV8, Seattle (1995)
Instrument is accompanied by a decent booklet with notes from Jem Cohen, and partial song lyrics (as featured in the film). It was also co-released with the Instrument Soundtrack, which contains some instrumentals(!), and unreleased tracks, including demos from End Hits. Instrument is a must-have documentary for all Fugazi fans.
Fugazi have been on a hiatus since 2003, as many of the members now have kids and other commitments to attend to. I’m sorry they can’t visit you in your home town!
If you had the good fortune to see Fugazi perform live, head over to their website Fugazi Live Series to download the live recording of your gig for a meagre $5. It’s a treasure trove of great music which the band have spent years compiling. It’s an amazing feat that practically every show they played was recorded.
It’s like they knew all along that they were going to hand it back over to their fans.
- Fugazi – Dischord Records
- Fugazi Live Series
- Keep Your Eyes Open: The Fugazi Photographs, Glen E. Friedman
Previously on Sampling Station:
- Bad Brains: A Band from DC Documentary
- Persecution Blues: The Battle for the Tote
- Mid Youth Crisis / One Inch Punch Live at Feedback, Newtown