LIVE: The Fugs @ The Byrdcliffe Barn, Woodstock 8/17/2019
Poetic, yet full of deleted expletives. Beautiful, yet aggressive. Folky, yet considered an early example of punk rock. Virtuoso musicians playing loose and free. Such is the music of The Fugs. Born out of the cultural ferment and rebellion of the East Village counterculture and named for the deleted expletive Norman Mailer used in his novel “The Naked and the Dead,” they are a window into a time long ago and far away and yet so near. Not very well known due to their disdain for commercialism and their obscene lyrics, they received little airplay even on college radio. Their much-acclaimed notoriety has been amplified by the recent release of an FBI file on the Doors that stated the Fugs were the “Most Vulgar Thing the Human Mind Could Possibly Conceive.”
Founded in late 1964 by poets Ed Sanders and the late Tuli Kupferberg and with Ken Weaver on drums, only Ed Sandberg remains from the original grouping. Many musicians from rock and music scene rotated in and out of the band. The current line up features Ed Sandberg on vocals and recitation, Scott Petito on bass/back up vocals, singer-songwriter Steven Taylor on guitar and Coby Batty on drums/vocals.
The band’s wide repertoire and political commentary were displayed throughout the band’s entire 2 sets. Opening with “Nova Slum Goddess,” a satirical song about 60’s radical chicks, and following with “CIA Man” about the covert powers of the CIA, the tone was set. Contrasting that with the William Blake poem set to music “Ah, Sunflower” and “Auguries of Innocence,” the band’s irreverence was apparent.
The folk-rock chanting with disturbing lyrics about death “Carpe Diem” and the exorcism of the White House that was initially performed in 2017 echoed their performance at the Pentagon in 1967 “Out Demons Out.” Satire regarding their lack of commercial success on “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” even a sing-along on immigration (lyric sheets passed out) “Cave 64” left the audience knowing exactly how far left the band was from left. A song named by their record label as “Wide, Wide River” followed. The late Tuli Kupferberg was present in the poetic adaptation of Matthew Arnold’s poem songs “Dover Beach” and “Morning.”
A fun evening at a truly rustic venue, the band played at an artist retreat in the woods near Woodstock in a different way to celebrate the spirit of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. Ironically, the original band disbanded in early 1969, several months before the festival. Incidentally, Ed Sanders 80th birthday was on the day of the performance. Happy birthday Ed. May you perform many more times with the Fugs.