Fugazi’s First Demo takes fans to where it all began
Fugazi – 10/10
Fugazi inspired my love for rock and roll, such that it exists today. I grew up as enamored as anyone else with the Beatles and Motown, but it wasn’t until I was exposed to Fugazi (thanks Max!) that my listening habits began to change. Fugazi changed the kind of music I listened to and how seriously I listened to it. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years writing about music in some shape or form because of the intense need that I have to share music with people. This, I think, also sprung out of my relationship with Fugazi.
I took the band’s ‘Do-It-Yourself’ ethic as a personal challenge, finding a way to contribute somehow to the music scene that was hitting me so hard, despite my stubborn lack of musical talent. And how could I not? After growing up in Classic Rock World, white-hot records like Repeater and the 13 Songs collection sounded like they descended from the outer reaches. These were intelligent, danceable songs about things that actually mattered — noisy, yet ferociously melodic, delivered as if the guys playing them were being lit on fire. Commitment. Passion. Truth. All three of these qualities were immediately recognizable, even to a novice listener.
Which brings us to First Demo. Recorded in late 1988, First Demo captures the band as it existed in its infancy, after a mere 10 shows and only weeks after vocalist/guitarist Guy Picciotto came aboard. The band’s most iconic track, “Waiting Room,” appears first; its lockstep, low-end groove slowed down a half-step, false starts and sloppy, uneven vocals doing little to diminish the overall impression that, holy shit, this song is so, so untouchable. It arrived fully formed, as ready for mass consumption as any hard rock song I know.
From there, we get feverish performances of songs that would show up on early releases like Repeater, 3 Songs, and Margin Walker along with some that would never show up anywhere. Listening to the rough, immaculate version of “Song #1” that appears here, my heart breaks for the Fugazi fans that never got to see them in person. Ian’s bloodcurdling, distant scream leads it off, as if from another room (“IT’S NOTHHHIIINNNGGGG!!!!”) a tiny riff grows into a BIG CHORD SECTION and then Ian and Guy are doing that back-and-forth call and response thing, leading you in and out of a noisy, clattering euphoria that is so infectiously bouncy and funky you could breakdance to it.
Ian once said he wanted Fugazi to be the reversal of his former band, hardcore pioneers Minor Threat, that he wanted it to be “like the Stooges with reggae.” “Song #1” is the Stooges with reggae. “Break-In,” on the other hand, sounds even more terrifying and pulverizing here than it does in its finished form, Guy screaming his fool head off like Howlin’ Wolf gone straight edge punk. There is so much to love about this music, this band, this release. With Fugazi now entering its 13th year of “semi-hiatus,” going all the way back to the beginning seems like a fitting and logical way to provide closure, not only for them, but for us as well. The band would grow leaps and bounds in its decade and a half lifespan, inspiring countless others like me along the way. Each of their albums are worthy of close inspection. This is how it all started. — Andrew Watson