“I am a patient boy. I wait, I wait, I wait I wait”. The words to Fugazi‘s Waiting Room will resonate with those who have been clutching at straws and hoping that the band’s decade long “indefinite hiatus” might come to an end. As it stands, Fugazi may never play or record as a band again, but there’s still plenty of archive material making its way out. Most notable is the considerable undertaking to document the band’s live shows, over 750 of which are now online, with more to follow.
With the end of the band clouded in uncertainty, it is perhaps apposite that the latest release from them takes everything back to the start. Whether it’s an attempt to close the circle, who knows, but there’s an interesting symmetry to Fugazi tidying up their live documentation and looking at their beginnings. Things are starting to feel complete.
After only a year in existence, and having played 10 shows the band headed to Inner Ear studio and recorded these tracks in the space of a couple of days. The demo finds the band at a fascinating period of evolution, whilst Ian Mackaye, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty had been the core of the band for that year, Guy Picciotto had only been with them for a few months and had yet to fully establish his role in the band (Break In represents his only lead vocal). As might be expected from a demo, the sound is a little rough around the edges, but this in some ways makes these versions a little more cutting and engaging than the more rounded interpretations that would later appear. The demo itself has never been available before (commercially at least) although all the songs, with the exception of Turn Off Your Guns, would appear on their later releases.
What the demo represents however is a band intent on moving on from their collective pasts and cutting a new path. A move away from the rules of hardcore allowed them to become more inventive and experimental with their sound. MacKaye wanted a band that sounded like “The Stooges with reggae” and this willingness to explore new territory can be heard in the cavernous Furniture, possibly the most successful expression of MacKaye’s desire to be found on the demos. Driven by a laid back bass lick, and with careful application of reverb to his vocals, Fugazi exploit the space within the song perfectly and use it to add punch to the more familiar punk breaks. And The Same heads further into reggae territory and its slightly looser feels here is slightly more convincing and vibrant than the version that graces Margin Walker.
The demos come from a period of time before the mythology of Fugazi had time to take hold. Further down the line, their political and ethical stances began to almost overshadow the band’s music (Brendan Canty’s sister’s boyfriend at one point believed the band lived in a house with no heat, eating only rice for sustenance). These songs are essentially a document of the band finding their feet musically, and it shows. Badmouth embraces an aesthetic that could almost be described as pop. The version here is rougher and heavier that the one that graces their self-titled EP, but there’s no doubting those hooks. Merchandise meanwhile lays down an ethical stance but marries it to a chanted chorus that was surely designed with crowd participation in mind. It’s a fine example of catch-and-release pacing. The early incarnation of Waiting Room meanwhile sounds like a classic even in this form, although the absence of some of Picciotto’s backing vocals initially make for a strangely jarring listing.
Ultimately, First Demo is far more than a historical curio, it’s the sound of the band in a period of furious creativity and evolution. It’s a vital addition to any Fugazi fan’s collection (although most will already have it, seeing as the original tape was given out at shows and the band encouraged it to be copied and shared), but it also still sounds fresh and exciting after all these years. Hopefully the key to the waiting room will be discovered by the band soon, they can still serve a function.