Mainstream rock in the 90’s was pretty limited, to put it nicely – a wasteland of derivative crap if you wanted to be honest with yourself. The only real options were to either forget about rock altogether or start focusing on happier times. This is the environment I was in when I stumbled across Entertainment! in my mother’s record collection. I had never heard anything like it before. With robotic drum lines, growling funk bass and jagged angular guitar, the music was harsh, incredibly political and easy as hell to dance to I was blown away. When Return the Gift came out in 2005 in all its glory I listened to it constantly. When I found out the Gang of Four had were coming through town last Monday, I dropped what I was doing and more excited than I have been for a show in a long time, made my way to Lee’s Palace.
It opened with Public Access TV. This band from New York has received a lot of press recently, heralding them as the new wave of American New Wave. Their music was an energetic blend of rock and roll with hints of reggae and 50s pop influences. The Clash circa London Calling kept coming to mind as I watched the 4-piece band perform. Far more than being just a throwback band though, the music is fun and honest with a retro but still unique feel to it in a time when guitar rock is no longer center stage. Where all the critical buzz will take these guys has yet to be seen but if they continue to produce the caliber of work they have put forward so far the sky’s the limit.
Despite my excitement, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the current iteration of the Gang of Four. I’d grown up with their music from a young age, attracted their unique sound, but I hadn’t listened to any of the new album. It was also a line-up I wasn’t familiar with, the only original member still with the band being Andy Gill the guitarist. From the opening notes though, I knew it would be great. Playing through a list of tracks from the new album plus many of their biggest hits, the sound was thick and dark in the beginning, oozing through songs like Ether and Anthrax, picking up speed going into crowd favourites like Damaged Goods and What We All Want (my personal fav). The crowd responded with soft cheers, dancing with eyes locked trance-like to the stage.
In 1979 ideas were shifting in the musical world. Punk had hit like a wave and crashed through the established musical status quo. On all sides, media had been bombarded with this shocking, politically driven, do-it-yourself youth music. Then, as quickly as it came, the wave broke and receded leaving a mark on music that can still be seen to this day. One of the bands to emerge from the implosion of the punk scene was the Gang of Four. It’s interesting to note that after three decades the Gang of Four hasn’t lost any of its relevance. Musically they were always ahead of their time and politically. In light of current events like the world debt crisis, massive amounts of global sectarian fighting and political upheaval they have only become more so.
This concert was an absolute joy.
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Review by Tristan Johnston