Not Just the Ticket — #28, Fugazi headlining Rock for Choice, January 24, 1992

Fugazi, Rock for Choice

Then-current album: Steady Diet of Nothing

Opening acts: L7, Pearl Jam, Lunachicks plus Torture Chorus as MCs

Back of ticket ad: Once again, Domino’s, the ever-so-logical choice for a Rock for Choice attendee.

And back again to the blue color scheme, though its days were numbered. At least, in this iteration.

Your eyes are not deceiving you, BTW. That is Pearl Jam there, wedged into the bill. And the thing was, this wasn’t even the weirdest benefit show I’d attend this year.

But it was still…well, both weird and not weird. In a way it was a show of summaries, not least because it was me returning to the scene of an aural crime, or at least a case of misunderstanding on my part when I failed to realize it was Fugazi playing a full set on stage rather than being some anonymous but fantastic opening band. By this point I’d picked up everything they’d released so I wasn’t exactly going to be surprised anymore, and that might have had an impact on my thoughts on the show in the end. Still that was one part of things that show, and that year.

1992 was the first time I could vote in a presidential election, though I’d already voted in the 1990 midterm elections. It was still way early days yet but I was already figuring that I really, really wanted the GOP out of the White House, and though I’m not a member of and have never registered with any political party I was already sure that the last thing I wanted to see was a continuation of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. Hindsight is 20/20 in that his son turned out to be a damn sight worse, but regardless, a fair amount of my belief that year revolved around Supreme Court concerns, not unduly heightened by the whole Clarence Thomas hoohah the previous year. This had to have been kicking around my head during the first Rock for Choice show with Nirvana but by this time it was starting to be a little more front and center.

And that too was another way this concert felt a bit like a repeat — the first time through was the Hollywood Palace rather than the Palladium but once again L7, understandably, were on the bill given their role in kicking off that whole series of shows and benefits. The intensity of the overriding issue of the show had hardly gone away, if anything it was ratcheting up. But the shadows were a little darker in my head for other reasons as well — I can’t quite put my finger on what prompted it, and the paranoia only really kicked in a few weeks later, but I was gripped for about the first couple of months of the year there with a convinced sense of ecological doom, like things were going to go down more quickly than anyone might have guessed. It was pretty black for a while there, I remember, and I don’t think I spoke about it to anyone, but I found myself going through the motions at my library job more often than not. It probably helped reconfirm what I was already thinking politically, but I am glad I didn’t stay in that mindset — it wasn’t (and isn’t) that there’s no reason to be concerned, but it was essentially unhealthy, defeatist.

I probably went with the same crew of people that I had gone to the last Fugazi show with — Steve M., Kris C., etc. as well as Jason B. I’m pretty sure. Once again I parked myself on the open balcony to observe the proceedings, probably from pretty much the same place I’d seen Fugazi the previous time. Torture Chorus were the MCs except that nobody exactly knew who they were — they seemed to be the Sister Double Happiness of this bill, except that they weren’t, given their role as band introducers and what have you. In trying to rack my brains for more info I gave up and used Google — turns out according to an entry here they were, at least for a Japanese tour that year, a group of four, two musicians and two performers doing some sort of theater of the absurd thing. I can only remember the two performers in that I’m pretty sure it was just a duo on stage, they had slightly weird outfits and they did all sorts of rants and chants and made animation noises, or so it seemed. Maybe the other two were there too, hidden away offstage. Again, very vague, very strange memories, but it probably helped to lighten my mood a bit. Then again, maybe it just made my mood a little worse.

The Lunachicks were definitely first in terms of band performances, though, and they were pretty damned kickass. I have no idea if they were lost in the mists of history when it comes to looking back on loud and great female bands of the era, all I know is that they were from New York and kicked up a hell of a ruckus. Makes sense that L7 had ’em on the bill, I’m sure they jumped at the chance. It’s another blurry show for me beyond those general impressions except one point where their drummer (I think?) came out and took the mike to sing this heavy as hell song called “Super Strong” which was brawling, bold, had attitude, pick a cliche. And it was big and positive too, it was something that made you want to sing along just like that.

Then more Torture Chorus and then…Pearl Jam. So herein a story. Seeing the two bands that rapidly became the two bands in the public eye when everyone was wondering what this alternagrungeSeattlerock thing from Seattle was, Nirvana three months before and Pearl Jam at this point, was a bit of an education in perception, I suppose, but also kinda fun just because in both cases it wasn’t ‘their’ show but part of something else, part of something theoretically bigger than themselves. By that time I’d heard Ten enough times to know that I liked the slow ballads more in the end but I figured the show would at least be entertaining, and it was — in this weird sense first and foremost: when I saw them all jumping around on stage and kicking up a fuss and doing what they did, my thought was “Huh…they remind me a lot of Jesus Jones.” But they did! Them and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin for that matter, all kinds of running around and leaping in the air and general hyperactivity.

But do I remember much more of their set? Not really. This wasn’t the last time I saw Pearl Jam so that might have something to do with it but there’s only one clear moment that stands out in my head, which I think captures Eddie Vedder’s slowly dawning sense that he was caught between warring impulses and would continue to be. It was during some instrumental breakdown of a song, and Eddie stood near the edge of the stage, saying something like how he knew Ian Mackaye wouldn’t approve — and he wasn’t saying this mockingly, a la David Lee Roth trashing the Clash, but with an edge of earnest concern and regret, likely caused by him knowing that Fugazi were, as they proved to be throughout their career, going to stick to their own particular ideals to the end. And then Eddie took a dive into the pit and crowdsurfed away for a while. Perhaps it’s nothing but laughable in retrospect, his concern over that action, and yet it does seem to capture that whole ‘should I really be doing this?’ sense that’s been an undercurrent in Vedder the whole time.

I wish I could say more about L7’s set but this is mostly blank to me, to my regret. There were going to be more shows from them that year that did stick in the mind so I’m not totally peeved about the gap here; still, I’d like to think I would have remembered something from such a fantastic band given every show I did catch. Fugazi I remember more clearly but somehow things weren’t as awesomely great as they had been the first time around. Again, I think a large part of that had to do with the surprise being lost — I was so clearly expecting a show to be as jawdropping great as that introduction that maybe this show couldn’t quite measure up in the memory. Still, “Give Me the Cure” stands out — I think that might be my favorite song of theirs in the end, just for the focus, the slow build, the amazing ending. If they did it that first time I don’t immediately remember it but they definitely did it this time and it was all I could have asked for.

I think Ian may have even said something about Eddie’s statement earlier but that could be a bit of projection on my part. It was a good show, maybe not a truly great one, but still one with moments, even if things were a little more dark and unsure for me in general than I would have wanted, and even though the show could never fully drive that away.