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Fugazi: Instrument

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For 12 years, Washington, D.C.'s Fugazi has proven both the exception and the rule, a rare one-two punch of antiestablishment integrity. The band is considered the exception because the exacting measures of creative control upon which it insists—be it via the group's allegiance to its independent label, Dischord, or its unbending policy of affordable all-ages concerts—are still virtually unique in an age of quick alt-rock cash-ins. Fugazi is also the rule because, ever since its inception, other underground groups have been judged in relation to its rigid beliefs. The band's battle with the mainstream gradually transformed its members into punk folk heroes—living, hard-working proof that you can stand up to the marketing machine and succeed on your own terms. Filmmaker Jem Cohen has been documenting the band since 1987, and Instrument is his long-awaited distillation of all the footage he amassed. The finished product is certainly the biggest gift a Fugazi fan could ask for, full of old performances and the occasional interview. But it's also, thanks in part to the group's no-frills existence, something of a slog to sit through. Instrument lacks a specific narrative direction—it's a document, not a documentary—and the sporadic interviews don't really offer more than Fugazi's already thoroughly illustrated politics, slogans, and beliefs. The band should be commended for keeping its focus on the music, but for its two-hour length, Instrument offers very few full-length song performances. As far as bare-bones approaches go, Cohen and Fugazi would have been better off sticking with a straight collection of more live material and fewer arty shots of fans waiting in ticket lines—though toward the end, when the fans finally speak, it's fascinating how each individual perceives the group. Still, if Instrument is purely self-indulgent, Fugazi is one band that has truly earned that luxury.