It's difficult to think of a band as iconic as Fugazi ever having had a phase of awkward early days. Born from the ashes of D.C. hardcore legends Minor Threat and what many people argue was the first emo band, Rites of Spring, Fugazi emerged in 1987 with a sound unlike any of their contemporaries, and one that would shift over the course of the next decade and change. The band's calling card was the visceral nature of its tightly wound songs, and something so powerful just seemed to come out of the ether fully formed. First Demo is evidence of some of Fugazi's earliest times, and a window into a fraction of the work and refinement that went into crafting their songs. Recorded in January of 1988 at the D.C. studio Inner Ear, where most of their proper albums were put to tape, only one of these songs, "In Defense of Humans," saw a proper release, appearing on the 1989 Dischord compilation album State of the Union. Most of the other tracks were circulated in small quantities on free cassettes handed out by the band at its gigs. While the fidelity is as strong as the band's officially released albums would be, there's an unmistakable quality of looseness on First Demo, the band less than a year into it and still forming, with second vocalist Guy Picciotto added just a few months before these sessions. Apart from the casual studio chatter that begins and ends a lot of the songs, there's a tentativeness that shows up in slower tempos and uncertain false starts on now classic tunes like "Waiting Room" and "Bad Mouth." Only one song included here, "Turn Off Your Guns," was left off the original demo cassettes, and it's one of only a few tracks Fugazi left by the wayside as they quickly moved on to more widespread releases. While First Demo sounds at times like a band just starting out, it also shows the seeds of greatness were there with Fugazi from day one. A slightly different arrangement of the explosively dynamic tune "Merchandise" is a highlight here, though an official version wouldn't show up until 1990's Repeater, released two years after many of these other early songs had been fleshed out on EPs and singles. Though the songs are a bit rougher around the edges than other versions would be, it's not by much. First Demo will be a revelation for Fugazi fanatics but crackles with an excitement that even a newcomer to the band can easily tap into. Still in the salad days, these songs are the sound of the band hitting the ground running. They hold up to any of Fugazi's more realized recordings, sounding fresh and -- more importantly -- urgent even 26 years later.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas