At the venerable 9:30 club on Feb. 9, two of
the original Marxist rockers, along with their new rhythm section, displayed
their recent album Content alongside vintage GoF tracks. Meanwhile, go
here to read the recent BLURT interview with GoF vocalist Jon King.
Review and Photos by
Logan K. Young
Any review of Gang of Four, now, has to consider the Gang of
Alas, such is the case when Britain’s
leading post-punk Marxists decide to get the band back together. Ideally, a new
GoF record like Content – their first since 1995’s surprisingly relevant
Shrinkwrapped – would be judged on its own merits. And as good as Content actually is, really, the fact matters naught whenever that Kinect 360! advert
featuring 1979’s “Natural’s Not In It” comes on the tube.
Gang of Four shilling for Microsoft? Say it ain’t so, blokes!
Then again, in a world where PiL plays late night talk
shows and Steve Ignorant assembles a tour to perform vintage Crass music sans Penny Rimbaud, perhaps it’s petty to beg discretion of nostalgia — especially
for a band so of its time. For starters – ding-a-ling dong! – Thatcherism’s
dead. No longer do Brittany’s
downtrodden have to suffer the vestiges of her trickle-down syndromes. Closer
to home, though, in a U.S.
capital where Henry Rollins isn’t scooping Georgetonians ice cream, Inner
Ear has moved to Arlington
and the new 9:30 is one OK Go show away from Live Nation hegemony, we the Whigs
have never needed Jon King’s voice and Andy Gill’s guitar more.
Yes, that is a partial swipe at the present GoF rhythm section — bassist
Thomas McNeice and Mark Heaney on drums. Just as Chairman Mao was nothing
without his full quartet, this gang is certainly lacking the verve and
insistence of the original, reunited lineup that ripped it up and started again
back in 2004.
It has little to do with the material, too. Set opener (and recent Letterman
feature, itself) “You’ll Never Pay for the Farm” is about as classic
Gang of Four we’re gonna get, now that founding drummer Hugo Burnham is firmly
ensconced in the ivory tower of academia. Followed by a song like Entertainment‘s
“Not Great Men,” however, and it’s readily apparent that McNeice and
Heaney possess neither the chops, nor the context, that Burnham and original
bass player Dave Allen could replicate in spades.
And honestly, that’s why you go to a Gang of Four gig here in 2011. Not that
newer cuts late in the set list like “Do As I Say” or “A
Fruitfly in the Beehive” don’t cut deep. They do. It’s just that, for
those of us who missed them in their prime (or maybe had a problem letting them
go in the first place), it’s the encored numbers like “Damaged Goods”
or “At Home He’s a Tourist” or, in spite of the BBC, “I Love a
Man in Uniform” that cut the deepest. And it’s for precisely this same
reason that I have Wire tickets for April 7. And it’s also how Peter Hook can
quid to hear him and his son’s friends play Unknown Pleasures back
to front. But when the songs are good enough, and their message remains potent,
it hardly matters — not in the long run of rock ‘n’ roll anyways.
To be fair, Gang of Four mattered much more then, than they ever can now. And
as everyone from Alphonse Karr to G.B. Shaw to Kurt Russell himself have noted,
the more things change…the more they only stay the same. To wit, some
thirty-odd years later for these post-punk proles, God save the queen is still not what she seems.