Then-current album: Steady Diet of Nothing
Opening act: that’s part of the story, really
Back of ticket ad: because when I think of Fugazi, I think of, once again, 97.1 KLSX, The Classic Rock Station. Don’t you?
The wall of monotony these blue and white tickets had to have created when they were all on the bulletin board must have been even more dulling than I remembered. I was rather patient having that up for so long.
And…the show which resulted in me being made fun of for a while to come. You know who you are.
So a little context. First off, I was never a punk, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me at all. I learned about it, of course, but I learned about it in slapdash fashion, random mass cultural reference points. And aside from the Ramones and maybe the Dead Kennedys I knew even less about American punk as such than UK punk, such were my interests, such were my senses of continuity. By the time of this show I had long since internalized the Sex Pistols and the Damned, felt the Clash weren’t as interesting as their fans claimed they were (no change there), and had some sort of sense of groups like Crass and other acts on varying levels of fame (or more likely, non-fame). Beyond that, not really sure what I knew and what I didn’t, nineteen years back is a long while. Sure I knew what punk was anyway, they slam-danced and there were anarchy symbols and, um…yeah…
I suppose I’d already been to a punk show of some sort a couple of times — Agent Orange opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Butthole Surfers/Redd Kross/L7 thing if you squint, Rollins at Lollapalooza, but it all depends on context and what it is and isn’t supposed to be and whatever. And I’d only just heard of Fugazi — I’d never actually HEARD them, I should note, but I had heard of them. I was vaguely aware of Minor Threat and the Rites of Spring as well, but mostly I just knew Fugazi by reputation, as this right-on band that were really dedicated to their fans, wanting to keep the ticket prices low as well as their records and CDs, and that supposedly were hellaciously great live. Reason enough to buy a ticket sight unseen (or song unheard) and so off I went with a slew of friends to a show where at the same spot two nights before I’d seen Ned’s Atomic Dustbin get the crowd going with their own moshing antics. I had a pretty good guess that things might be a little more random here.
But it was just a guess, and maybe on my own or maybe with some of the folks I was with — Steve M. and Kris C. once again for sure, though I’m positive most of KLA ended up at this show almost by default (again, cheap, but throw in Fugazi’s reputation as flagbearers for independency on all levels and there you go) — I ended up at the edge of the public balcony at the Palladium, though near the back wall of the venue as most of the curving flow of the balcony was already pretty well packed. The place in general was pretty well packed — the ticket prices were, again, nearly impossible to beat, so little surprise it was one hell of a turnout. The value of such a concrete demonstration of principle in action serves as its own statement — it’s almost a trump card argument, in that even if you didn’t think anything of Fugazi’s music (or even knew of it at all) then you could appreciate the stand being taken, if one wanted to read it that way. It was a rare thing in my experience.
By this time as well the full sense of romance, if there was such a thing, in the build-up to a show well turned into more of a general anticipation. As mentioned, so many shows were starting to come fast and furious — and the pace would soon quicken some more — that my entire senior year at UCLA would be a blur of show memories were it not for the tickets providing some sort of signposting. Everything was settling into a good general groove, for lack of a better description, even as curveballs could appear out of nowhere — as was going to happen here.
The playbill and/or flyers for the show had indicated that there were three bands all told, with Fugazi headlining. Somewhere I’d heard that they were dedicated to always giving good local bands a break so I was also interested in catching these equally unfamiliar names, just to learn some more and hear some more than I might otherwise. The venue was, as mentioned, pretty reasonably packed by the time the first band appeared, and they were…well, they were okay. They did their thing, it all sounded like the vaguely generic ‘oh right, punk…I guess’ stuff I’d heard over the moons in an extremely haphazard way, as noted before. There wasn’t really anything totally remarkable to my brain about it all, though I remember the lead guy got in some pretty big jumps, hair flowing behind him, and that there was definitely a vocal contingent there to see them. From the back of the venue it struck me more as timekilling whatever and so I patiently waited it out.
Eventually the second band took the stage and there were plenty of cheers for them — “Local favorites,” I thought — and they got into what they were doing pretty quickly. It didn’t take me long to realize something else as well — they were good. They were REALLY good. Some performers grab you with their sheer presence, others with the intricacy of their performances, others with something more — whatever it all was it was firing off on all fours here. The quartet began with a blistering drum-led introduction, so I seem to remember, and from there it was off to the races and a half, and all the cliches you could want had to have been coming to my mind. Two excellent singers more or less trading off lead turns — a bit like Ride, I might have thought — and the whole being something that wasn’t ‘just’ punk at all.
I had to have drawn comparisons to the Ned’s show two nights before in my head, because I remember thinking to myself more than a few times, “Man, if these guys are just the next opening act, Fugazi is going to have to COMPLETELY rule the roost.” It was almost shocking, it was just that spectacular. I appreciated these guys’ sheer style in the face of opening for one of the most highly respected and appreciated bands I’d heard about around that time.
So they wrapped up their set to plenty of cheers — and after a bit they came back. “They were called back for an encore?” I would have thought. “I’ve never seen that before! Damn!”
They started up with one song, then without a break switched to another, I was enjoying it completely and at some point the words of the chorus started to actually sink in a bit:
“‘1-2-3, repeater, 1, 2, 3, repeater.'”
“Funny, isn’t ‘Repeater’ the title of…an…al…bum…”
Yep, there ya go. I had seen an entire set of Fugazi on stage without realizing it was them. At. All.
Part of me had to feel completely ridiculous. Beyond description. Quite obviously I hadn’t said anything to anyone by that point — maybe I was on my own in the balcony, maybe I was just too into the show to say anything, who can say. But part of me had to laugh, it was so wonderfully ridiculous. Couldn’t’ve believe that had happened and yet, there it was, it had, and one hell of a crazy joke it was. I think I immediately confessed this to Steve and Kris after the show and I have no doubt they were looking at me as if I was nuts. (Or more than likely calling me a freak — which Kris still says to me to this day by way of greeting, bless her heart.)
But at the same time, it was really an enjoyable and unexpected experience. Sure I’d come in knowing Fugazi’s reputation but without knowing anything else about them, and without knowing it was them on stage, I was able to simply appreciate the quartet just as they were, and they were honestly, truly magnificent. Sometimes all the praise one hears isn’t hollow, sometimes it all comes from the heart because that’s exactly the kind of reaction they provoked in others. All that sheer power without being flailingly angry, all that appreciation for what rhythm can do just as powerfully as feedback if not more, it was a wonder to behold — and I don’t even think there was an incident of Ian Mackaye telling off the crowd.
So there were only two bands that evening, Fugazi and the much more generic but okay enough openers with the lead guy with the long hair jumping all around and all. I worked out what their name must have been and filed it away in the same mental storage bin as so much else.
Which enabled me, about three years later, to scratch my chin a bit and go:
“Wait…so the band who was really the opening band that night was…the Offspring?”
At least it didn’t take me that long to work out who the headliner was.