Tempus Fugazi

The Rex, Stratford

'Don't throw beer cans,' chides Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, like a teacher facing a particularly unruly school assembly. He's just had to tick off one audience member for hurling flyers at the stage, as well as having to expel another who disobeyed warnings not to stage-dive. 'Have a nice time,' he orders. 'Dance with each other.'

Fighting losing battles is second nature to Fugazi. Named after an acronym used by American soldiers in Vietnam, the band have spent more than ten years beating brows with hardcore punk tunes and uncompromising ideals.

They are among the few remaining torchbearers of the early 80s, Washington DC-based 'straight edge' movement, which renounces rock 'n' roll staples like booze, drugs and cheap sex, and opposes corporate profiteering of every type. Fugazi keep ticket prices as low as possible, and the Stratford Rex is typical of the middling-size, marginal venues at which they play.

No doubt such dissidence matters as much now as it did in the excess-crazed, yuppie-plagued years of Fugazi's formation. Yet despite the blistering speed at which the band play, Fugazi's music has failed to keep pace with time. Their speciality is stop-start songs with hollered choruses, a rip-roaring template that can't help but sound conservative after a while.

Ignoring their recent album, the film soundtrack Instrument, Fugazi rampage through their musical career. Travelling from last year's Place Position to old favourites like Long Division and Repeater, it is a survey that reveals a uniformity of musical purpose. Variations between songs are rare: newer ones require an extra drummer, and a couple of times MacKaye and his fellow vocalist-guitarist Guy Picciotto embark on Sonic Youth-style feedback routines.

As a live act, though, Fugazi take some beating. When not glaring down at miscreants in the front row, MacKaye works up a righteous sweat, while Picciotto, playing the teenage sidekick to MacKaye's grown-up, flings himself around and gyrates furiously.

It is easy to forget that the people making this energetic, overwhelming racket are in their mid to late 30s. With their bodies whirling around the stage, and bare-chested men bouncing off each other in the audience, Fugazi reach an undeniable velocity. It's just a shame that it doesn't carry far beyond the Rex.

By Ludovic Hunter-Tilney

The GuardianTramp

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