On the 1988 self-titled EP by Washington, D.C.’s Fugazi, Ian MacKaye sang, “You can’t be what you were”—a line directed, perhaps, at fans expecting a new iteration of Minor Threat, Rites of Spring or Embrace. But it could also have applied to the Fugazi of 2002, looking back at a fifteen-year run as it geared up for its final U.S. and European tours. The band evolved musically and lyrically over six albums, three EPs and more than 1,000 live shows played around the world. During that run, Fugazi built its own culture around low ticket prices, offbeat venues and expectations that its audience members would treat one another with respect.
The band’s albums are packed with political songs that still resonate today, from “Suggestion,” a song about rape from the first EP with implications that play directly into the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, to “Five Corporations” from 1998’s End Hits, which addresses the ever-growing influence of multinational companies. The band’s final album, 2001’s The Argument, was released a month after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the performances that followed in 2002 occurred during those bizarre, awkward months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.
MacKaye and Picciotto often devoted time between songs to discussing issues such as patriotism, gentrification and the increasing militarization of America’s police departments—topics that remain as crucial today as in 2002.