Joe Lally

Fugazi bassist plays surprise show in Belfast

In 2002, American punk band Fugazi played the Nerve Centre in Derry - the first and last gig they would ever play in Northern Ireland. Afterwards, as they packed their own equipment into a blue Ford transit van, the four band members chatted freely with a bunch of ecstatic 17 year olds. I was one of them.

It was a dream come true, the best gig I had ever experienced. And I went away happy, never for a second believing that I would meet my teenage heroes again...

Then, last week, a notification on Facebook. My heart stopped. With Fugazi on hiatus since 2002, there is a distinct possibility that singer and guitarist Ian MacKaye, guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty might never play Ireland again as a full group (MacKaye played Belfast when I was a student and too poor to go). But here was bassist Joe Lally, a hero I'd met before, playing the Menagerie in Belfast that very night.

To quote singer MacKaye, Fugazi were ‘like the Stooges with reggae’. Formed in 1987, they influenced everybody from Nirvana to Arcade Fire, and are said to have inspired the ‘emo’ scene. Fugazi brought a raw, dub sound to the punk scene, and an admirable, non-corporate work ethic, shunning merchandising and mainstream advertising, with front man MacKaye doing all of the publicity himself.

They also tried to bring an end to the violent slam dancing that so many punk bands encouraged at their gigs. Instead Fugazi invited their audience to actually dance to their music. Watching them in 2002, I experienced their aversion to crowd surfing when my friend had his nose broken whilst riding the human wave. MacKaye brought the victim and his attacker onstage. The latter was told to apologise, and the rest of the gig went off without injury.

I envisage the Menagerie packed to the ceiling then, for the return of a punk legend, but when we arrive it is shockingly empty. I order my first glass of Buckfast and watch Lally, drummer Ricardo Lagomasino (who also plays for Capillary Action) and a female Italian guitarist tune up. Her name now escapes me, probably due to the fact that Lally (who currently lives with his wife in Rome) uses different musicians depending on where in the world he is playing.

Despite the rotating line up, however, the group dynamic is impressive. Lally's bass playing has a distinctive dub sound, and combined with a smattering of just audible lyrics, his band sound seriously promising. The drummer is every bit as skilled as Canty and the androgynous guitarist is pretty handy with an ebow, an intriguing instrument that draws sound from her electric guitar via magnetic waves.

Playing songs from Lally's two solo albums, There To Here (2006) and Nothing Is Underrated (2007) Lally and Co have the disappointingly tiny audience in the palm of their collective hand from the start. Does it sound like Fugazi? The truth is it does, and that’s not a bad thing. If it aint broke, why fix it?

Between songs Lally talks about his Irish heritage (how surprising, for an American!), and at the end recites a poem that seems to me to be about war and the state of society. It's a poignant way to end the set.

Then my dream repeats. Once the amps have been turned off and the background music turned on, I approach Lally to congratulate him on the gig. He proceeds to tell my friends and I about his current set up, how when Fugazi went into hiatus he hadn’t been ready for a break, so went out on his own. He also says that, despite Canty wanting to spend some time with his family, there is the likehood that Fugazi might one day reform.

Then it's off to Dublin for Lally for another small, unpromoted gig - the DIY work ethic remains intact. They say you should never meet your heroes, and in most cases that’s probably a good idea. Unless of course your heroes are members of Fugazi.