About the only thing that saves this week from a total write-off is a cathartic, phenomenal show last night by post-punk pioneers Gang Of Four at the Powerstation. Ninety minutes, two encores of high-octane, lacerating guitar and bass and a frontman who seemed to be channeling David Byrne and Iggy Pop's illegitimate child. Some nights, you need to be in a row full of people jumping up and down and singing "To hell with poverty / we'll get drunk on cheap wine."
Gang Of Four, to my mind, are an unfairly overlooked pivotal late '70s act who combined punk and funk to make political rock you can't help but dance to. Bands from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Franz Ferdinand and LCD Soundsystem owe them big. Their debut, 1979's "Entertainment!," is one of the signature postpunk albums, all coiled angst, bass that twangs away like a gong, shrieking, staccato guitar and chant/sung lyrics. Frontman Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill are the two founding members who lead the group today, and it's their drive that feeds the push-pull of grinding rock with highly political subjects -- "At Home He's A Tourist," "Natural's Not In It," and "I Love A Man In Uniform," one of the most sneeringly witty anti-war songs ever written. This is the band Rage Against The Machine always tried to be (and failed to quite live up to, but that's just my opinion).
Gang Of Four's songs are often accused of being chilly, with gloomy lyrics like "this heaven / gives me migraine" or the awesomely snide "Love'll get you like a case of anthrax / And that's something I don't want to catch." But live, King threw sweat, gymnastics (a headstand!) and microphone-stand twirling energy into the Gang's songs, adding a whole new dimension to their work. King was fantastic, swirling, shaking and gyrating like a man 20 years younger. At one point he sat out for a song played by Gill and I worried he was having a mild heart attack downstage. Meanwhile, Andy Gill had approximately one facial expression for the whole show but let all his emotions out with his scorching guitar work, which places its focus on bursts of tone rather than showy solos.
For a group that's got a rather serious reputation, I was pleased at just how much joyful fun Gang Of Four are live. Bass man Thomas McNeice, looking like a Lenny Kravitz impersonator with his swaying dreadlocks, was terrific at playing all the classic songs, sending out resonating bursts of corded sound that stabbed right through the audience. Gang Of Four played most of Entertainment! plus a selection of their other tunes and some from their really solid comeback new album Content. We had the seething blast-furnace fury of "Anthrax", "To Hell With Poverty" became a raucous mosh pit singalong, and "I Love A Man In Uniform" was an encore delight, while "Damaged Goods" closed out the set. Good show, mates.
Here's Gang Of Four on David Letterman recently performing their new single "You'll Never Pay For The Farm." Jon King in full effect!
And a recent take on "To Hell With Poverty":