By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
WhileSuperbowlSundayisragin’full-on for the rest of America, Ian MacKaye is busy meetin’ an’ greetin’ fans and old friends while simultaneously loading out gear after the Evens’ all-ages sold-out-at-five-bucks throw-down in the backroom at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. “Who cares about a ball game if Ian’s in town playing his music?” says Flea, while fellow Chili Pepper John Frusciante nods in vigorous assent. The two worshipful Peppers are hovering among MacKaye’s “Music Is Sacred” circle of true believers, which also includes childhood bud Henry Rollins, who’s hanging out with former Black Flag bandmate Chuck “The Duke” Dukowski.
The guys show their devotion by forming a movingly impromptu human chain to lug drummer-co-writer-co-lead-singer Amy Farina’s drums and hardware out to some minivan rental in the back parking lot piecebypiece(no trap cases, you see). The Evens is MacKaye’s current two-piece, himself and Farina, in SoCal to play a week of dates from San Diego to Ventura. That MacKaye — the no-nonsense high priest of East Coast skate-core and a senior musician-entrepreneur of the international grassroots indie rock boom of the ’80s and early ’90s — would get loaded out by such a high-profile roadie crew before heading over to Rick Rubin’s digs, where he and Farina are house guests, is no surprise to those in the know. The late Joe Strummer once said of him, “Ian’s the only one who ever did the punk thing right from Day One and followed through on it all the way.”
MacKaye, now in his early 40s, has been a bushy-tailed professional musician since his teens, with a legacy already well secured by his triune monument to fundamentalist punk-rock DIY: the bands Minor Threat and Fugazi and his co-owned D.C.-based record label Dischord, any one of which probably puts him up for the Rock & Roll Hall of Immortal Punk Horror, as well as the Big Old R&R Cathedral of Shame in Cleveland itself (25 years since Minor Threat’s first record qualifies).
Details of his astonishing accomplishments, the numerous big names in “neo-prog” who have cited Fugazi as influential or inspirational — from Radiohead to John Frusciante to Mars Volta — and, of course, his aesthetics and intramural punk controversies are plastered all over the Web. So who goes to an Evens show, which, like a Fugazi show, is always all-ages, no matter what, with tix no more than five or seven bucks? Morrissey T-shirts freely flounce with Discharge, Minor Threat and Iron Maiden. Then there’s the mid-30s emoid who hollers out during a mid-set verbal exchange with our man, “Dude, I wrote to you when I was 12 years old — and you wrote me back with answers to all my questions.”
Somebody else blabs it out loud: “So what’s the word with Fugazi? Is it final?” MacKaye just laughs, so does everyone else, though he never actually answers the guy. Later, when I press him about it, MacKaye says, “Fugazi may come back and it may not. We had parents who were getting sick and parents who were dying. We had been going for 15 years. [Drummer Brendan Canty, now with three kids] said he can’t tour because he has to be home with his family. It’s just life, real life.”
The ethereal set at McCabe’s alternates MacKaye and Farina’s tight lead vocals and harmonies around no-frills “pop song” arrangements for electric guitar and trap drums with a near-dry sound that excludes virtually all electronic chicanery, save for some reverb on the guitar amp. And when Farina occasionally throws on a dope dubwise slap (an effects unit) to her snare, she clearly shows that meticulous time and tunings trump bashin’ ’n’ thrashin’ to create those special nuances, hesitations, accents and other such only-in-the-room things that take insane amounts of time to replicate digitally — if you can even do it at all — even with the newest smart-ass software in the world. No silly trip-hop excursions (thank God), no dead-end two-note laptop loops, no jack-off faux-trance beats, and no cheesy “remixes” by internationally anonymous doof-headed “DJ collectives” within 100 miles of these marvelous songs from the just-released Dischord (natch) CD.
Lyrically there are comparisons to Fugazi, with themes speaking out against authoritarian big government — “the police will not be excused” — and for transcendence of “world atrocities.” But instead of being downbeat, depressing protest songs, the music is beautiful and uplifting in subtle ways, like taking the volume waydown,for instance. While some have compared the male-female vocal interplay to John Doe and Exene Cervenka, fellow indie-rock pioneer Mike Watt described it as “more like Young Marble Giants,” in that Farina’s voice equals MacKaye’s, rather than providing subversive harmonic texture like Exene.