After the break up of his massively influential hardcore punk band Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye bounced from group to group while tending to the releases from his DIY record label Dischord Records. The Washington D.C. hardcore scene that he helped birth was still going strong, with local bands like Scream, Marginal Man, and Rites of Spring carrying on the ethos that MacKaye had pioneered, but MacKaye was eager to re-establish himself as a performer and songwriter.
With the dissolution of his band Embrace, MacKaye recruited bassist Joe Lally and drummer Colin Sears, who soon returned to his primary project, Dog Nasty. MacKaye had befriended Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty and asked him to sit in at rehearsals. Rites of Spring had broken up earlier that year, and singer Guy Picciotto tagged along to hear what the trio were up to. The mix of styles diverged from the classic idiom of hardcore, but Picciotto saw MacKaye handling both guitar and vocal duties, so he didn’t ask to join.
It wasn’t until the tail end of 1987 that Fugazi truly started to become a serious project. Picciotto’s new band Happy Go Licky had broken up, and he once again started accompanying Canty to Fugazi practices. His interjecting backing vocals added another atypical element to the band’s sound, and MacKaye liked them so much that he invited Picciotto to become a full-time member. Picciotto was almost exclusively a backing vocalist during this time, leaving the guitar work solely for MacKaye.
It was in this configuration that the band appeared at D.C. Space on December 28, 1987. D.C. Space was a legendary punk rock venue that was home to avant-garde performance art, art film showings, and poetry readings in 1977. Just a few blocks from the National Mall and The White House, D.C. Space would be one of the first venues for upstart local musicians and would later go on to inspire spaces like The 9:30 Club and The Black Cat.
The band that played that night were a far cry from the members’ previous projects. Minor Threat’s jackhammer delivery and Rites of Springs’ emo-inspiring drive were instead replaced with intense focuses on rhythm and chord changes that seemed to have as much to do with progressive rock than they did with punk.
Instead of chaotic and unpredictable, Fugazi were precise and methodical. They brought the same manic energy that came from more traditional hardcore punk bands, but Fugazi were more deliberate in their musical intentions. That can be heard in the tight descending runs of ‘Bad Mouth’, the almost new wave-like groove on ‘And the Same’, and the metal riffage of ‘Furniture’. Picciotto’s only turn at lead vocals is on ‘Break-In’, during which he sings into a mostly inaudible microphone.
Even at this nascent stage of their career, the band knew the power of what would go on to be the band’s signature song, ‘Waiting Room’. Slotted as their final song, the already enthusiastic audience has, but this point, congregated on stage as well. This was a common occurrence during Fugazi shows, as the band sought to make very little distinction between themselves and their fans. They all contributed to the force of nature that was Fugazi.
Check out the full concert down below.