It’s always been kind of hilarious that Ian MacKaye’s first recorded declaration as Fugazi’s frontman was “I am a patient boy.” In both a literal and figurative sense, MacKaye’s early career was defined by restlessness, whether setting land-speed records for early ’80s hardcore in Minor Threat or swiftly shifting gears into the anthemic proto-emo of Embrace. But from the first notes of Joe Lally’s circular bass riff, “Waiting Room”—the opening song on 1988’s debut self-titled EP—instantly asserted Fugazi as something markedly different than their D.C.-hardcore pedigree suggested: cooler, funkier, and, judging by the rhythmic pause slyly introduced at the 23-second mark, even a little frisky.
Actually, scratch that—as it turns out, MacKaye’s first recorded declaration as Fugazi’s frontman was “Oh…. whoops.” As heard on this reissue of the band’s first recording session in January ’88 (back when Arlington, Virginia’s fabled Inner Ear Studio could still be found in producer Don Zientara’s suburban basement), the aforementioned pause in “Waiting Room” not only trips up the song’s rhythm, but its lead vocalist as well. Still growing accustomed to that structural hiccup, MacKaye starts singing his first lyric before quickly realizing he came in too early, the self-described patient boy ironically thwarted by his own impatience. But the band played on and the tape kept rolling, and, despite the audible flubs and some obviously ad-libbed lyrics, Fugazi would informally distribute cassette copies of the 11-track session at their early shows, because, well, that’s what fledgling groups did with their first recordings before Bandcamp existed. And in lieu of the internet, you had a small but growing tape-trading cult of Fugazi fanatics who wore out their hi-speed-dubbing decks to spread the word.
But despite Fugazi’s seeming eagerness to share these off-the-cuff efforts, a listen to First Demo today reveals the band’s greatest virtue in their early years was indeed their patience. It’s a quality apparent not just in the performances themselves (which see the band tempering hardcore’s incendiary energy through dub’s woozy influence, rap repartee, and Zeppelin-schooled groove), but in how long it took for most of these songs to officially surface. Only three of the tracks here would be rerecorded for Fugazi’s first two EPs, four would eventually turn up in revised form on 1990’s full-length Repeater or its 3 Songs supplement, while others remained buried until as late as 2002, if not scrapped altogether. But what changed in the interim wasn’t so much the sound or shape of the songs, but the very intra-band dynamic that would go onto define Fugazi’s essence.
At the time of First Demo’s recording, Guy Picciotto was still trying to elbow his way into a band that MacKaye, Lally, and drummer Brendan Canty originally envisioned as a power trio. Yet to assert himself as MacKaye’s feisty, Flavor Flav-esque foil, Picciotto’s second-vocalist duties initially amounted to punctuating MacKaye’s lines with extra emphasis rather than provide a counterpoint. You can immediately sense Picciotto’s tentative position on “Waiting Room”, where he offers up his now-famous “come on and get up” post-chorus retort as a half-muttered afterthought rather than the brash call to arms we know today. And true to its title, Picciotto’s lone lead-vocal on “Break-In” feels very much like an intrusion, a shot of pure punk insolence that serves as a check on Fugazi’s rapidly expanding musical scope.
You can see why certain First Demo tracks didn’t make the cut on the band’s early proper releases, considering Picciotto would soon be bringing corkers like “Give Me the Cure” and “Glue Man” to the table. The embryonic take on “Furniture” was presumably shelved due to its rhythmic similarity to “Waiting Room”, and it practically sounds like a preemptive dub remix of the single version that surfaced in 2001; the compilation-bound rarity “The Word” gets even woolier, its garage-blasted charge dissolving into a distended coda likely deemed too ponderous for release even by Fugazi’s loosening standards. Meanwhile, “In Defense of Humans” and “Turn Off Your Guns” (the one song here never released before in any form) sound like dry runs for the sort of accelerated, in-the-pocket rave-up Fugazi would perfect several years later with Red Medicine’s “Bed For the Scraping”.
But if Fugazi was only just starting to exploit the call-and-response frisson that would ultimately spawn classics like “Suggestion” and “Margin Walker”, First Demo nonetheless amplifies a quality so often overshadowed by the band’s ideological concerns: Fugazi are fun, and from day one, they’ve wielded an affirming, bounding, adrenalizing noise to which the only logical physical response is hurtling yourself through a basketball hoop. And if songs like “And the Same”, “Badmouth”, “Song #1”, and “Merchandise” would appear in superior, tightened-up form on future releases, the slackened but still-potent versions here capture a band of hardcore veterans not so much stepping out of their comfort zone as finally locking into it. For long-time fans, First Demo makes something of a sport out of noting the minor differences between the early and official takes, like the breakdown on “Merchandise” where MacKaye repeats a line—”a dollar earned/ a dollar spent”—later nixed, presumably for being a bit too on-the-nose. But rather than diminish First Demo’s worth, such quirks ultimately justify its enduring value—these are rare, illuminating displays of imperfection from a band that, for the subsequent 15 years, made no false moves.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uH14rq