In my parochial youth, there was no case to be made for Led Zeppelin. That was certified dusty shit. They were the kind of band enjoyed by people who only liked one band, and their evangelism scratched like sandpaper. This was hypocritical of course, as I was predisposed to the pinholes of light in my own cave, a large shadow from which was Fugazi.
At this point in time, we are as removed from the heyday of Fugazi as I was from Led Zep as a teenager. Which is to say they have earned their degree double-majoring in Being for Old People and Classic Rock (as defined by Blake Hester). So while I recognize the epistemological danger of taking a hard “yes” position on any band, I forever stan Fugazi. They were always the most consistently honest group, as outlined in Joe Gross’s thorough and revitalizing book on the context and creation of their cultural and creative turning point In on the Kill Taker—the records were the menu and the show was the meal.
Fugazi thrived on stage. Their existence was primarily plugged in, and in that capacity they cared enough to create an engrossing and welcoming environment for everyone who would want to attend, not just scenesters and shitkickers. Led Zep is known for ripping off and juicing the blues, casting their own electricity on stage for all who dared, but in the end they merely preened. Fugazi catalyzed the atomic energy of live music while challenging others to do the same. This wasn’t a boast but a call-to-arms, and there are many who took on the charge.
One of the only active bands inching close to the flag held by D.C.’s finest is the Atlantan duo of ’68. Their third album (and first full-length with powerhouse drummer Nikko Yamada) Give One Take One landed in late March, and it’s honestly perplexing that I’m not reading write-ups for it top-to-bottom along the internet. Singer/guitarist Josh Scogin has put everything on stage for years, first as frontman for noise-metal expressionists The Chariot, whose own shows are legendary for their collective mayhem and catharsis. ’68 is a cutting from the same succulent and has grown to encompass a wider sonic reach, landing between Fugazi’s energetic swing and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s grunts and bends with a jazz-trained Yamada squeezing breakbeats to back beats from a single-digit kit.
The keystone is Scogin’s hydra-headed presence, where he goes from slashing riffs to tossing his guitar, jumping on the drums to fried-out bellows, hyping the crowd and transmitting gigabytes of data to Yamada with just a glance. This was true enough for all ’68’s earlier albums and live shows, but the new lineup has clearly given Scogin a presence to play off of that is operating at his level, and it shows in the seamless stitching of Give One Take One. It may still be the menu for a live show that has to be felt with all senses to truly appreciate, and the songs still swirl with a desire to warp and re-shape traditional rock turns in arrangement and writing, but overall it presents the band at the tautest they’ve ever been drawn.
Much of this strength comes from use of the studio as the third member. Like Fugazi, ’68 has accepted the contradictory need to have their songs buttoned down before slamming record, but also build in space to craft a galaxy of shifting tones and sonic dimensions. Give One Take One reveals ’68 at their most focused while their craft remains dedicated to improvisation, joy, catharsis, and the sheer voltage that’s brought rock ’n roll to life since the beginning. These impulses are documented in the pre-order bonus documentary of the making of the record, itself a quick-cut and incomplete look at the band in all their humanity not far from Instrument, the hazy, dreamlike but still lived-in film about Fugazi by Jem Cohen. Two bands in tandem on the absolutely necessary nature of their musical creation, the near medical need to express themselves while remaining so resolutely tethered to this earth and its wondrous confusions and energizing interpersonal connections.
Perhaps this is why Scogin has the word “THANKS” taped up on the back of every guitar, not just as a cheeky way acknowledge the live crowd throughout each set, but to keep gratitude for life and human connection literally in hand at all times. That same appreciation is rooted throughout Give One Take One, the first of hopefully many realizations of ’68’s complete collaborative synergy. They’ve proven their worth as a band worth going all in on, for now and decades to come.
// Levi Rubeck is a critic and poet currently living in the Boston area. Check his links at levirubeck.com