Friday, January 21, 2005

Gang of Four in New Cross

So one of the greatest bands of all time decide to play their first gig in 20 years and where do they choose to play - The Montague Arms of course! The Gang of Four have reformed on the back of everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Franz Ferdinand playing around with their punk-funk sound, and to prepare for some big gigs next week they played the 'secret' gig in New Cross tonight. When I heard about this today I thought it must be a joke - in my local music pub? On the stage where even I have trod?

But it was all true and a big, crowded, sweaty affair it was too - they were by far and away the most danceable white band of their genre/period and they still sounded sharper than 90% of groups then or since. Their critical thinking hasn't dated at all (capitalism still exists I'm afraid), unlike some of the more sloganeering bands of that period, and some of their material has acquired new resonances. As John King bashed out a rhythm with a piece of metal on a microwave, intoning the lyrics of 'Ether' -"white noise in a white room" - I was reminded that while the H-Blocks in Ireland might have closed (the song's original subject), torture by British troops is still pretty topical.

When some bands reform they seem embarrassed and half-hearted, but nobody could accuse the Gang of Four of that on tonight's performance, with singer Jon King scurrying around the stage on all fours, guitarist Andy Gill's intense stare, and original rhythm section Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen shaking the stuffed animal heads, marine ephemera and other bizarre decorations in this most idiosyncratic of South London taverns.

Didn't catch the full set list but for any Go4 obsessives out there it started off with 'What we all want' followed by 'Not great men', 'Ether' 'Why theory?', and 'Return the Gift'. Next songs included 'He'd send in the army', 'At home he's a tourist', 'Anthrax', 'Natural's not in it', before finishing up wiht 'To Hell with Poverty'. A short set of encores included 'We live as we dream alone' and 'Damaged Goods', before they came back on again for 'Essence Rare'.


Unknown said...

I can't believe I missed this!
I'll have to console myself with the fact that I saw them twice in '79....and still got the tinnitus to prove it....

. said...

Yes, the Young Knives were really good too, a band not uninfluenced by the Gang of Four. I felt for them, because it must have been weird to be in that position, but they didn't seem overawed. I can't beat Richard on seeing the Go4 in 1979 but I did see them at the Lyceum in 1983 when they were supported by a little known Manchester band about to release their first single - The Smiths. Perhaps the next big event will be for Moz and co. to reform at the New Cross Inn?

Anonymous said...

New York Times Review:

After Postpunk? Post-Postpunk by the Gang of Four

Published: January 24, 2005

LONDON, Jan. 23 - Clank. Clank. Clank. Clank. Jon King, lead singer of the Gang of Four, was methodically bashing a metal rod against a microwave oven that he found at a recycling dump. Each blow added a dent; paint chips went flying.

It wasn't petulance; it was the introduction to "He'd Send in the Army," a bleak, brittle song from the Gang of Four's 1981 album "Solid Gold." Stubbornly slow, with Hugo Burnham's drums, and Dave Allen's bass stopping and starting, and Andy Gill's guitar shrieking across the spaces, it is one of the band's most rigorous and unforgiving songs, and one of its favorites.


On Friday night at the Montague Arms, a packed pub in the scruffy New Cross neighborhood of South London, about 200 latter-day punk fans greeted the song with a curiosity that quickly turned into cheers. The four men, now in their late 40's, were playing their first show together since 1981.

They immediately reclaimed the meticulous ferocity that made the Gang of Four one of postpunk's most influential bands. Its old blend of the cerebral and the visceral was in full force as Mr. King sang lyrics like "Fornication makes you happy/No escape from society" with hips pumping and hands in the air. Afterward, one sweaty patron in his 20's said, "I hadn't realized how much all the bands I like sound like them."

It's exactly the right moment for the Gang of Four to reappear. The sound of postpunk - the smart underground rock from the late 1970's and early 80's that followed through on punk's iconoclasm, noise and eccentricity - has made a startling comeback. Though few postpunk bands breached the Top 40, they left their mark on musicians a generation younger. In Britain and the United States, bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Rapture, Radio 4 and Bloc Party have latched on to the jumpy, clattery beats and combative guitars of the Gang of Four and its contemporaries. Members of the Gang of Four hear themselves echoed in their children's album collections.

Reunited postpunk bands like the Pixies and Mission of Burma have found eager young audiences on tour, and now the Gang of Four is headed for the road. "The goal is to be as incredibly intense as we were the first time around," Mr. Allen said. "What we have to do is leave them with their tongues hanging out again. If not, we don't retain our authority in the musical canon. There's no excuse that we're 23 years older."

Mr. Burnham added, "I realized that we could do it because we all still had our hair."

This week the Gang of Four is playing five shows at 2,000-capacity clubs around Britain, and it starts a United States tour with an appearance in California at the Coachella Valley Music Festival, which runs from April 30 to May 1. Last year the Pixies probably set the gold standard for reunion tours by barnstorming festivals and by selling out 3,000-seaters for eight months. The Gang of Four's music was far more ascetic than the Pixies' songs, and its reunion is more modest, with the band members returning to day jobs between stretches of touring. But if the band's first show was any indication, it should galvanize a new audience.

Formed in 1977, the Gang of Four came up with what would soon be called punk-funk.

The band was conceived by Mr. Gill and Mr. King, high school friends and fellow art students at Leeds University. They visited New York in the summers of 1976 and 1977 as punk, primitivism and art-rock were conspiring at CBGB. "It suggested the possibility that anything could happen," Mr. Gill said. (The band's sardonic name came from the radical leaders in China who fomented the Cultural Revolution. These days Mr. Gill uses a cigarette lighter shaped like Mao's Little Red Book.)

The music Mr. Gill wanted to make was like paintings he was doing at the time: precise black grids with blotches of paint smeared across them. "It would be the juxtaposition of tight, fixed patterns that were very physically energizing and relentless, which would largely be supplied by the bass and drums, and the guitar, which would sometimes completely go along with that, and sometimes not," he said. "If you took one of these elements out and made it ordinary, the whole thing would lose its authenticity. Every part of it had to be radical. It was building musical tension in a precise way."