I wrote this essay while freelancing for Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger between 2005 and 2008; near as I can tell, they never published it. I came across it today while writing about Philly band Cassavetes, who shares its name with a song on the record, and thought I’d post it around these parts. Enjoy.
Historians of 90s rock tend to fawn over Fugazi’s strident independent ethic moreso than its actual music, and it makes sense why.
Even the most committed listener would admit it’s easier to admire a hard-held commitment to anti-corporate, fan-friendly business practices than an inscrutable stylistic mishmash of thrash, arty noise, funk, reggae, Flavor Flav-styled vocal interjections, and a general penchant for being – aw hell, let’s just say it – weird.
Which is what D.C. linchpin Ian McKaye became upon leaving the rigid repression of Minor Threat’s bare-knuckled punk. He and his newfound bandmates’ – in both the short-lived Embrace and the more prolific Fugazi – indulged their assorted musical interests in ways that invited non-descript adjectives like “angular,” or the all-telling “post” prefix (in Fugazi’s case, “post-hardcore”)…both of which are rock writer code for “FREAK.ING.WEIRD.”
Not to say that folks didn’t understand the band. Heads rolled to the slippery dirty groove of “Waiting Room” when it played on 120 Minutes, and hooks like “ONE!TWO!THREE!REPEATER!” had fists flying in the air. Those who heard, knew they were privy to something great. But by the time In On The Killtaker came out in 1993, the media had given up on crystallizing that greatness into much more than “yeah, these are the guys who won’t charge more than $5 a show.” A shame, since that’s the point where Fugazi got really interesting.