Gang of Four
February 12, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis
There is an odd juxtaposition present when you see Gang of Four in a live setting. Saturday at First Avenue they took the stage dressed like Carnaby Street dandies, and if you didn't know better you'd have thought you were in for a set filled with polite, harmless pop songs. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
[jump] The set opened with "You'll Never Pay For The Farm," the single from their new album, Content--their first album in 16 years--and while the song suffered from a poor sound mix (it was nearly impossible to hear lead singer Jon King's vocals) it was still obvious that the band was there to pummel the nearly sold-out Mainroom. Gang of Four pretty much invented post-punk, with it's angular riffs and repetitive nature, and have been one of the best at keeping it interesting and experimental without becoming stale or too avant-garde. It's noisy but it's not just noise.
King and guitarist Andy Gill (the only remaining original members) played well off of one another; Gill and King traded a few jokes to various degrees of success but that was inconsequential overall. Watching King (who was shirtless under his suitcoat) flail and jump about during the set--occasionally bumping into Gill and bassist Thomas McNeice--it was obvious he has inspired a host of other frontmen, Perry Ferrell in particular, over the years. The entire band, really, seems like the jumping-off point for every alternative band that has ever existed.
As they did a harrowing version of the slow-burning "Anthrax," it was stunning to think they wrote that song 30 years ago; while it's (sort of) a love song, it's more relevant now than it was then. The song also served to underscore what an odd flow the show had. Most shows usually start, peak and then wind down again, but like one of their own songs the set had a jarring, staccato feel to it, the pace peaking and dropping several times.
Maybe it was intentional, but as the set continued with songs culled mostly from Content like "Fruitfly In The Beehive" and their classic Entertainment!, a few other minor issues occurred. Gill's Stratocaster failed him toward the end of one song and he angrily hurled it across the stage; King's mic cut out in the middle of a song shortly thereafter. It made for an imperfect set but it seems like Gang of Four are an imperfect band and the glitches didn't take away from the show as much as they could have.
They closed the set with a punishing, stellar version of "To Hell With Poverty" with it's galloping bass and buzzsaw guitar riffs and after a few minutes came out for the first of two encores. They opened the first one with "Natural's Not In It," which after all was said and done proved the be the best song of the night, and closed the second with "Damaged Goods," which summed up the entire set quite nicely.
The show was a little bumpy, was marred by a few problems, and saw the demise of a guitar. However the band persevered, still put on a great show, and the crowd was impressed enough to cheer for a second encore. There aren't many bands who can do that, but then again no other band is Gang of Four.
Critic's Bias: Gang of Four have a sound (the staccato guitar paired with the funky bass) that, for me, never gets old. If I was forced to I could listen to them exclusively.
The Crowd: More younger people than expected but the majority of people in attendance were clearly old enough to attend their shows 30+ years ago.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Last night I was at Best Coast and Wavves and felt 20 years older than everyone; tonight I feel 20 years younger."
Random Notebook Dump: Their songs have a menace to them--like bad things are lurking just past the vanishing point down the road.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.