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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Facing Fugazi's Music

April 26, 1993|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fugazi, the pinnacle of punk-rock and the conscience of the American music underground, hates being identified as That Band With Principles almost as much as its members hates the conventions that its principles challenge.

But here they were again, stopping their show at the Hollywood Palladium and waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were. They just can't let you get off easy.

At most punk-rock concerts, flying projectiles are part of the atmosphere, like paper planes at a ballgame. But when a fan at Friday's show pitched a shoe in the direction of singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye, he lobbed a metaphorical monkey wrench into the works.

"Who threw this shoe?" said MacKaye, stopping the music and brandishing the offending footwear as he adopted a Scorsesian, You talking to me? tone.

Ignoring singer-guitarist Guy Picciotto's suggestion that the band conduct a Cinderella-like foot-fitting of the whole audience, MacKaye repeated his question until he located the culprit.

MacKaye then had the fan brought to the stage, where he gave him his shoe, pulled $6 out of his wallet as a refund on his ticket (cheap admission is one of Fugazi's best-known and most appreciated principles) and sent him into the night.

It wasn't exactly great for momentum, but it illustrated that when it comes to a choice between proceeding on automatic pilot and addressing an issue, Fugazi will always go with the confrontation.

Besides making some of the most creative punk-related music going, the Washington D.C. band operates a key independent record label, and through example band members have become moral leaders in the rock underground, where they're known for its support of progressive causes and for encouraging access to the music for fans of all ages and economic levels. Attuned to the difference between genuine reaction and dumb cliche, they refuse to accept such mindless conventions as punk's ritualized antagonism.

As much as they try to downplay the ideology and be seen as a plain old band, when they're faced with a challenge like the shoe incident they just can't help themselves. And ultimately it works in their favor: You can find 50 shows a week in town that have an uninterrupted flow, but it's rare to encounter someone who is so consistent in challenging the accepted norm. If Fugazi sometimes tends to come off like a schoolteacher lecturing a miscreant, well, too bad.

That was the only major sideshow at Friday's concert. For the rest of the evening they bore down on the music that they wish people would focus on.

Playing off each other with the instinctive rapport of a jazz unit, the four musicians (the rhythm section is drummer Joe Lally and bassist Brendan Canty) laid out a moody, restless, constantly shifting sonic landscape in which driving punk-rock was interspersed with industrial mutations, reggae slowdowns and groans of feedback. Like Fugazi overall, it wasn't always easy and fun, but you had to admire it.

Following its three nights at the Palladium, the group plays the Anaconda in Santa Barbara on Tuesday.

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