Gang of Four w/ Radio 4 (Tuesday, May 9th, 2005, Quest Club, Minneapolis)
In October, 2003, in a review of a Hot Hot Heat show at The Quest, I wrote,
“The riffs on "Talk to Me, Dance With Me" sound like they could have been lifted straight out of The Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in a Uniform."
I forgave HHH at the time, adding, “But so what? Not much chance you're going to see the Gang of Four live anytime soon.”
19 months later, The Gang of Four ascended the very same stage, and this is one time when I don’t mind eating my words.
Openers Radio 4 got my feet movin’. I like them. Always have. In spite of my colleague Jim Froehlich’s observation that seeing Radio 4 open for the Gang of Four is like seeing Björn Again open for ABBA. It’s not like Radio 4 don’t wear their influences on their sleeves. They’re named after a P.I.L. song fercripesakes, and they’re no more afraid to sound like The Clash than they are to sound like Joe Jackson. At Tuesday’s show, P.J. O'Connor’s bongo solos were an obvious hit with the crowd, as was the bands closer “Absolute Affirmation” from their latest offering Stealing Of A Nation. In their own words from their song “New Disco,” “It sounds so good. It looks so good. It feels so good. Piss off.”
Gang of Four
My sophomore year of college, I was so steeped in the Gang of Four’s music that I practically spoke their lyrics as mantras before (and after) meals, and used them as email taglines. (Yes, this was way before the internet, but we did still have computers and campus email.) As a fun academic exercise during finals week in the Spring of ‘84, I decided to quote from bands I was listening to in every blue book exam I took. (For quotable material, it helped that another band I was listening to at the time was The English Beat, and it didn’t hurt for relevancy that my exams were in Poly Sci, Economics and Greek drama.) I tossed off ironic lyrics like, “Elected to power men suspend self-interest.” [Gang of Four, “Life, It’s a Shame”] and “Always climbing up is your downfall,” [English Beat, “Sugar and Stress”] citing the bands as references, and somehow still managed a passing grade despite a few “????”’s appearing in red ink in the margins.
Though I am old enough that I might have seen them the first time around (if only they’d come to a venue anywhere near where I lived at the time), Tuesday was my first live GOF experience. What I was most struck by was the bands near spastic yet controlled energy, and the heavy, powerful punch of their live sound. Singer Jon King ran from mike to mike during songs, a soundman’s nightmare (though the Quest engineer was all over it.) King even dumped the mike a few times producing that familiar clunk that eventually sends your ElectroVoice to the microphone graveyard. The blonde Andy Gill out front and had as much attitude (or more) than someone half his age. And the band is rounded out by the other two original members, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham.
For those who know the songs, the set list itself (below) speaks volumes. And for those who don’t…you might want to brush up on your Gang of Four before attending your next Bloc Party or Franz Ferdinand show.
They opened with “Return the Gift,” “Not Great Men” and “Ether,” and then played "I Parade Myself" from their 1995 album Shrinkwrapped, the only song of the night that didn’t come from one of the bands first 3 seminal albums, Entertainment, Solid Gold, and Songs of The Free.
I was surprised to hear “Anthrax” live. I told my friend (a Gang of Four newbie) that it wasn’t likely to make much sense with Gill and King doing both parts at once in stereo (one part the fairly frank spoken evaluation of what the band thinks about love songs and how popular music obfuscates the concept --- one reason why they don’t write love songs---and the other sung part, a seeming polemic against love, “Love will get you like a case of anthrax, and that’s one thing I don’t want to catch.”)
On “Why Theory?” King whipped out the harmonium. Before “At Home He’s a Tourist” he said “This one’s for Brrrrruuuuce,” (Springsteen was onstage in St. Paul tonight at the Excel.) I couldn’t quite figure that dedication out, since in my opinion that song is about going off to University, working yourself half to death on studies of worldly matters, then going home on holiday and feeling befuddled and out of place. Though Springsteen sings about the troubles of the working classes as do the Gang of Four, he clearly has a much different approach. In another sense though, that particular song is one of many by the Gang of Four that touch on the futility of trying to get ahead in a world where the scales are clearly tipped in the favor of the ruling class.
“He’d Send in the Army” had Jon King beating on a Microwave oven with an aluminum baseball bat as an additional percussive instrument. To his credit, he actually kept the beat.
I acknowledge that by this point in the set I was already half crazy from enjoying myself, and any line that ever existed between journalism and rabid fanaticism had been blurred by more than the White Russians I had consumed.
Moments after I wished aloud for “To Hell With Poverty” we got it as the set closer. Toward the back at that point I had already started to sing along.
For the encore, my companion dragged me into the throng up front by the
stage to hear “We Live As We Dream Alone,” (a song 89.3 “The
Current” has been playing recently) and “Damaged Goods”
to which I screamed along with the closing “I’m kissing you
goodbye goodbye goodbye” part. (More raving nutter, un-journalistic
David de Young is at firstname.lastname@example.org
Set List - Minneapolis - Quest Club - 5/10/05
1. Return The Gift (Entertainment)
1. We Live as We Dream Alone (Songs of the Free)
The Gang of Four's official site: http://www.gangoffour.co.uk/
(The Gang of Four, of course, didn’t name itself after another band's song. See this link for today’s history lesson.)