Gang Of Four @ The Hi-Fi, 25.02.2011

Incredible, just incredible.  I didn’t know what to expect from tonight but even more than two weeks after the show I’m still completely blown away by just how good it was.  Having spent a couple of days before the gig re-familiarising myself with Entertainment! and Solid Gold I’ve hardly listened to anything else since.

When bands reform and then carry on without half the original line-up you always fear for the worst; that it’s going to be a pale imitation of past glories, a vintage band with nothing to offer but nostalgia, out on one more tour to help pay the mortgage and because they don’t know how to do anything else.  But Gang Of Four are astounding and it’s remarkable not just how contemporary they sound, given the appropriation of their sound in the post-revival of recent times, but how much better they sound and look than their imitators.  Whereas the revival had an art school air about it, and with it a too-cool-for-school aloofness, Gang Of Four have a menacing vibrancy and energy levels that would embarrass much younger bands.

Singer John King exemplifies this, throwing himself around the stage, quite literally, with a couple of forward rolls across the stage during their set and dance moves from the Ian Curtis/Peter Garrett school of dancing.  He hardly stands still for a second, taking his pick of the three microphones set out across the front of the stage at his whim, contorting the stand to suit his wiry frame, before moving on to the next position of his choice. A roadie spends almost as much time on stage as the band, following behind King to carry out running adjustments to the mic stand he’s left behind.  Meanwhile guitarist Andy Gill, who bares an uncanny resemblance to a slimmer version of Ray Winstone, patrols the stage, teetering on the very edge to glare menacingly at the crowd, coaxing the most astonishing sounds from his guitar.

The rhythm section, drummer Mark Heaney and bassist Thomas McNeice, provide a tight backing and at no point do you feel that it’s King and Gill plus two others; they’re a fully functioning four-piece.  Maybe it’s because as a four piece they have recorded and released new music, with songs from 2011’s Content being included in tonight’s set, including opener You’ll Never Pay for the Farm. But it is the highlights from the first two albums that the audience – a strange mix of greying old guys and much younger cute goth girls – have come to see and which make up the bulk of the set.  Anthrax, Ether, To Hell With Poverty, What We All Want, At Home He Feels Like A Tourist; they all sound superb and are given a completely new lease of life when played live, sounding even more energetic than the recorded versions.  It’s something that seems obvious and yet at the same time it’s surprising just how much verve is added to the songs.  There’s a couple of encores, including Damaged Goods and Natural’s Not In It. The microwave that has been given pride of place at the side of the stage finally makes its appearance during the encore, John King using it for additional percussion with the aid of a baseball bat.  It sure makes a refreshing change from all the indie bands and their obligatory additional floor toms and tribal drumming finales.

After the gig I’m just so blown away I decide that I really need to go see them play again at the following day’s Soundwave festival.  There should have been a twenty minute spot before Slayer start to play on a different stage right at the opposite side of the festival but thanks to the over-running of the stage times, some awful emo band on before Gang Of Four don’t stop playing until after the time that Gang Of Four were due to start.  In the end I decide that I have to go and photograph Slayer, even though I’m not a fan and it ends up being really quite boring, with the crowd being far more entertaining than the band itself.  Choosing Slayer over the chance of another forty minutes with Gang Of Four is a decision that I’m still rueing.



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