The Messthetics isn’t Fugazi 2.0. Yes, the same rhythm section that drove Fugazi's influential punk/hardcore sound now drives the experimental rock of the Messthetics. And yes, many Fugazi fans are thrilled the quartet has partially reassembled into an instrumental trio.
But the Messthetics is a different band with a different sound. Where Fugazi was fronted by two vocalists who also played guitar, drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally now play alongside guitarist Anthony Pirog.
Though they have stayed in touch since Fugazi went on hiatus in 2003, and members have admitted to occasionally jamming with each other when back home in D.C., the Messthetics is the first project together for Canty and Lally since the hiatus. Canty said the chemistry is still amazing.
“It’s been like finding a long lost limb,” he laughed, describing his reunion with Lally. “He’s just a fantastic bass player.”
Before returning to the U.S. and reuniting with Canty, Lally had been in Italy for eight years where Canty said he had been playing with “more out-there jazzers.”
“When he moved back, we started playing together almost immediately here and there, mostly on his stuff, which is a little quieter. And then I listened to some of the stuff he brought back from Italy,” said Canty.
That spurred him to introduce Lally to experimental guitarist Pirog, who Canty had been keeping an eye on.
“I said, ‘Let’s see if we can get him in and play with him,'" said Canty. “And as soon as Anthony came in to play with us, it just really clicked almost right away.”
Canty calls Pirog a bit of a genius.
“He has so many great ideas,” said Canty. “He’s bringing in the lion’s share of the songs, and the initial push was from him.”
He said the writing process is a lot quicker in the Messthetics.
“We can talk about it on the way to a show and try it out that night. We can also write headers and more vague ideas and just throw them out there live,” said Canty.
The improvisational nature of the writing process means the music gets from pen (or brain) to stage much quicker than with Fugazi.
“I liken it to trying to read the license plate of a car that’s about to hit you,” said a laughing Canty. “Or catching baseballs in a batting cage. There’s just stuff coming at you all the time, so you try to keep your ears open for this collective sound from material that’s coming at you constantly.”
It’s a sound that IS different from his previous band, but the musical intensity and musicianship remain. Fugazi fans are intrigued, and thrilled they once again get to see at least half of the quartet that influenced Nirvana, Bad Religion, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as hundreds of other lesser known groups and those that never made it out of their garage.
Fugazi was even the inspiration for two music-based businesses in Bloomington-Normal that sport the name of Fugazi songs. Waiting Room Records owner Jared Alcorn took his store's name from the lead song on the band’s debut album. And Nightshop, the venue hosting the Messthetics on May 7 , took its name from a song on Fugazi’s “The Argument” album.
Canty was hesitant to accept the praise.
“I think it’s part of human nature to never feel like you’ve arrived somewhere,” said Canty. “So I never really felt at the time that we had arrived anywhere. We were basically nose to the grindstone, fingers in the dirt all the time.”
Somewhat grudgingly, he conceded Fugazi was finding an audience.
“People were showing up and we were selling 250,000 records a pop, but we were also together 15 years. Yes we’d play three nights in New York City, but then we’d also play in Hoboken for 200 people or in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” said Canty.
He acknowledged Fugazi is appreciated for those reasons, as well as its history of low ticket prices and uncompromising approach to the music.
“I talk to people every night at Messthetics shows where they tell me they’ve been influenced by Fugazi,” said Canty. “I’m not going to call them liars, I really appreciate all the kind words. It means the world to me.”
The Messthetics play Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Monday, May 7. Opening bands include The Poison Arrows from Chicago, Bloomington's Disorganizer, and Normal-based Hungu.
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