Fugazi has long been more than a band – leaders of a movement, a lifestyle as much as a listening choice, political statement – and then there’s all that great music. So it might seem easy to say this now, the band a success in and of itself, a passionate, loyal fan base, but First Demo really is extraordinary to hear. Released just now – this is the band’s earliest attempts at capturing a sound. They’d only been a band for a dozen gigs or so when they stepped into the studio to lay down some ideas.
It’s heartening to hear this band of DIY punk-ethos music-is-what-matters anti-industry-trappings hardcore-influenced players always had the chops, the conviction, the attitude. And the songs.
Fugazi has been a brand (if you like) for nearly as long as it was ever a band so it’s wonderful to be taken back to the early seeds – to hear a version of Merchandise that bolts out of the gate, fully formed, that wonderful thrum of bass hurtling the song forward. Many of the songs here on First Demo were polished – just a bit – for the group’s official collection, based off the early EPs. But these 1988 recordings burst and bristle, they pulse and charge. They remind you of just how staggering it would have been to catch this group in action back in their earliest days. And how consistency was the band’s greatest virtue – never putting a foot wrong across over a half-dozen albums.
Furniture was eventually released as part of a 2001 EP of the same name, among the band’s last offerings until now. So it’s great to hear an early version of that song, proud reggae/punk rhythm section already nailing it.
Ian MacKaye would go on to be a voice outside of the band of course – a spokesperson, a statement-maker, and that message was carried out via the music still. What’s most obvious about First Demo is that this band was really fucking good – great players. Sure, they had the punk/hardcore energy and attitude, they were post-hardcore if anything, and a great pre-cursor to a lot of indie bands that never quite lived up to the fire Fugazi seemed to so easily summon.
But they were also just a bunch of young guys slamming out some music in a garage, on a stage, and then – when ready – in a studio. First Demo will be warmly received because of the absence, the hope for – one day – more new material. Sure. But it’s also a reminder of the vital charge of this band, that visceral energy. And you can hear right here why the never put a foot wrong – this set of demo recordings is better than the fourth-fifth-sixth-seven albums that many bands lay down, over-produced, missing any heart or soul or songs.
Fugazi would hone their sound, absolutely. There’s a sharpness missing here – but that’s part of the charm. This is a little piece of magic to hear right now. Such a great band.