London Stratford Rex

What is perhaps most amazing about [a]Fugazi[/a] is that they continue to be inexhaustibly ingenious, within the strict parameters of their discipline...

Before we start, let’s get a few things straight. [a]Fugazi[/a] have rules and they aren’t made to be broken. No pushing. No moshing. Put your beer cans away. “We don’t want anybody to die,” Ian MacKaye proclaims like an over-protective parent, knowing that the second his fingers pluck those first tortured chords this entire place – already palpitating with anticipation – will go utterly, fantastically berserk.

Yet [a]Fugazi[/a] are regarded with the reverence befitting a band who have thrived for over a decade, defining a genre and remaining true to their DIY ethos in the process. So the kids obey. Nobody dies. And [a]Fugazi[/a] stretch, mangle and distort those rules with furious, stabbing intensity. But they never, ever break them.

Like [a]Fugazi[/a], Shellac are aware that the tension between control and chaos provides the optimal thrill. Breathlessly, they veer from shattering crescendo to terse minimalism – stretching traditional power-trio boundaries with sinewy, elastic arrangements. At times they resemble the clanking, cold hum of a tumble dryer filled with steel spikes, at others they are all creeping flesh and whispering paranoia (hear Steve Albini hiss, “I think that there is no heaven”, and try not to shiver). True, snippets of Led Zeppelin riffs can be detected in nearly every song, and you can’t help but feel desensitised by glancing blows of chunky rhythms and excoriating metallic guitar by the time they leave the stage; but Albini cuts a compelling figure, rocking back and forth on legs splayed wide, elbows akimbo, twisting his guitar strings with his teeth.

Even Shellac, however, can’t summon the tremendous white-hot pyrotechnics [a]Fugazi[/a] have made their byword, nor can Albini rival Ian MacKaye‘s co-frontman Guy Picciotto for sheer kinetic exuberance. His body lurches and twitches with an almost balletic grace, always on the verge of falling over, but he never loses control. He swaps unintelligible staccato vocals and guitar licks with MacKaye, weaving together even the simplest chords with symphonic complexity. They play without a set list, tetchily edging through ‘Waiting Room’, indulging in a bit of freestyle noodling during ‘Steady Diet’, even encouraging bassist Joe Lally to step up to the mic for lead vocals on ‘Recap Modotti’ – but their instruments’ crackly dialogue retains a scientific accuracy, a taut authority.

What is perhaps most amazing about [a]Fugazi[/a] is that they continue to be inexhaustibly ingenious, within the strict parameters of their discipline. They have been active for so long they are in peril of being compared to bands that they themselves have spawned, seeing as they forged the template for much of what we know as hardcore, post-rock, math-rock, whatever – without ever actually evolving very much themselves.

Still, their virulent, peace-loving noise-making is superior not only for the credible politics that lie behind it, but also because their tensely cathartic yet good-natured performances remain unparalleled. They have honed hardcore into a flashy, funky, soulful experience – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in a parallel universe where the kids are straight-edge and the shirts not so shiny – and they’re smart enough to throw in a few irresistible hooks for good measure. [a]Fugazi[/a] are tightly wound around a slippery perfection there’s no need for them to abandon – after all, what’s the point in making a radical departure when you’re already radical? It’s about intensity, intelligence, dedication. Accept the rules, but deny restraint. Keep the body pure, but ravage the eardrums. Never cook when you can burn.