Last Tuesday night I was walking by the Fillmore Auditorium, and found out that there were still Gang of Four tickets available. Well, damn to Hell With Poverty, I dropped $25 at the ticket window and wandered on up those venerable stairs, past the free apples, to catch the legendary UK band in action.
Your sweat so sour
Sometimes I'm thinking that I love you
But I know it's only lust
The change will do you good
I always knew it would
You know the change will do you good - Damaged Goods
Opening up the show was Radio 4, a NYC Based band that likely owes a little debt to Gang of Four in their sound and stylistic approach. They were energetic, and featured the standard nattily dressed & coiffed keyboard, guitar and bassist up front plus a really banging drummer, paired with a percussionist dude on timbales/congas. Radio 4 were putting down an interesting, damn near occasionally funky sound, and filled the room with their taut brand of aural bravado. I'd check these guys out again for shizzle...
Radio 4 - How The Stars Got Crossed
Gang of Four came out of their dressing room to sip cocktails, watch the band from the balcony and seemed to dig 'em. The newcomers from NYC were putting out a great set of fiercely ecsatic electro pop rawk to an audience of unappreciative and motionless San Francisco hipsters. I felt like hounding them after the set and apologizing for the weak crowd response. But instead I ordered another Tanq & Tonic and perused the old posters on the walls & chatted up old friends in the hall and waited for the main event.
As for the Gang, fresh from selling out the Fillmore the night before & playing the massive Coachella festival the day prior, the audience was definitely theirs for the taking . The band came out to rousing applause, with Andy Gill on guitar & vocalist Jon King frantically playing to the crowd, switching stage sides & mic stands numerous times. King was particulary animated, waving his arms, climbing atop the speakers & twitching his sinewy frame every which way. During "He'd Send in the Army", King beats furiously on a microwave to great symbolic & sonic effect, and as the oven gets dented and flayed, it's obviously great as a percussive instrument & theatrical prop. The fellas in the band up front were obviously not spring chickens, but were svelte, energetic & in fine form, tearing into the old faves like "At Home He's A Tourist" with those staccato guitar attacks, angulated rhythms & fat bass lines like they had been itching to play them for years.
“The problem of leisure. What to do for pleasure. Ideal love a new purchase. A market of the senses.” ~ Natural’s Not In It, by Gang of Four
They originally formed in 1977, shortly after Gill & King, arts students from Leeds, went to NY for the summer and caught the punk scene up close like seeing The Dead Boys & The Jam at CBGB's.
"You'd be at CBGB's and Joey Ramone would be propped up at one end of the bar and down the other end of the bar, there'd be John Cale. It was great really. It was an exciting time...That first Television album was great and so was the first Talking Heads record. There's a shared interest in avoiding the rock-guitar cliché for sure. " - said Andy Gill in an interview with Worldly Remains magazine.
The Gang of Four became noted for their sparse & funky twist on the rock idiom, combining shouted political lyrics & dancable beats to make a sound that was all it's own.
"Please send me evenings and weekends/ Please send me evenings and weekends ..." Reurn The Gift , by Gang of Four.
Gang Of Four never had great commericial sucess, partly due to their radio repelling punk/funk sound and attitude. They were once invited to appear on the UK's Top Of The Pops, but were dropped when they refused to remove the word 'rubbers' from the lyrics. They kept their street cred, but never hit the charts again. Over the years, they made impact, much like the oft repeated line about The Velvet Underground, they never sold very many records, but it seemed as if everyone who bought one must have been influenced to start a band.
Until recently the Gang has not played with all it's orginal members since the very early 80's, a time when they would be on Rock Against Racism tours in Britain. Gang of Four came about at a time when Thatcher's Britain was facing a steady economic decline and a rising tide of fascist youth called the National Front. Gang of Four provided rallying cries for the post punk pub & protest scene. Like hometown compatriots The Mekons & Chumbawamba, and to some extent groups like The Clash and Crass. They toured relentlessly back in the day, & drank & drugged & argued just as fiercely as they toured. Tourmates at times have included everyone from the Buzzcocks in the late 70's, to bringing along REM as a support act in the early 80's.
Now two decades later, they have respectable day jobs, in fields like e-marketing, teaching and corporate video and but decided to take leave of absences and make a go of a reunion. A sparse schedule, with just 5 UK dates, and 12 American cities was eagerly greeted by old & new fans alike.
Apparently the prospect of touring, while simultaneously pushing into middle age, has even made bassist Dave Allen hire a personal trainer before hitting the road. (Drummer Hugo Burnham looked a bit more like Jabba The Hut though, and despite his wife's staus as a Pilates instructor, one imagines his training regimen might have consisted of getting dietary tips from the "Supersize Me" DVD.)
Lots of attempts to milk the bands cult like appeal are currently being made with an expanded reissue of their classic & likely finest work "Entertainment!" on Rhino/Warner due May 17th, and a two-disc Gang of Four compilation, due August 30 on V2.
The two disc V2 release will contain "re-recorded" Gang of Four songs from their first three records — Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free — by the original reunited band members. The first single, the Gang's re-recording of "To Hell With Poverty," is available now on iTunes. The other disc is a tribute/remix collection slated to feature remixes & covers by bands like No Doubt, Moby, Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs & The Futureheads etc.
With so many bands now out and aping the G of 4 sound, with the world's politics even more convoluted & ugly, and the radio playing an even worse assortment of fluff and fodder than 25 years back...
"The timing couldn't be better," Allen recently told the Orange County Register, "because nothing has changed. If anything, it's gotten worse. That gives us incredible relevance. No one else is talking about this stuff."
click pic - password = stairway