Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gang of Four at Irving Plaza

Andy Gill
(with John "Gaoler" Sterry in the background)
The rock band known as Gang of Four formed in 1977 in Leeds, England, during the punk era. The politically-charged quartet took its name from a newspaper account of four Chinese Cultural Revolution leaders ousted in 1976 after Mao Tse-Tung's death. The band played hard, funky rock with angry messages about social ills, and so road the coattails of the British punk rock movement. The once-angry, politically-charged quartet was a buzz band until it had a minor dance-pop hit with "I Love a Man In a Uniform" in 1983, for which its core audience abandoned the group. The band split in 1983. A new version of Gang of Four was revived in 1987 and split again in 1997. The original lineup reformed in 2004, but currently the sole remaining original member is guitarist Andy Gill. He is joined currently by vocalist John "Gaoler" Sterry, bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Jonny Finnegan. Gang of Four released its ninth album, What Happens Next, on February 24, 2015.

Gang of Four performed its first New York concert in 20 years tonight at Irving Plaza. While eight of the 16 songs in the set tonight were from Gang of Four's first two albums, the songs' youthful aggression was gone and the overall sound was more like the band's industrial-tinged electro-pop albums of the 1990s. Sterry was a fair singer, Gill played engaging syncopated and jagged guitar licks and the rhythm section held down a stripped-down funk and dub backbone. This spare-sounding mix of punk rock, funk and dub, with its emphasis on the social and political ills of society, was performed well, but it lacked bite and urgency. Perhaps part of the lull in dynamics was credibility; the new vocalist must have been a toddler when most of the songs were written. Gill's searing bursts of frayed metallic guitar kept the show energized, however. With only two new songs in the set, the show was more a retrospective than an entry into the new world.

Visit the Gang of Four at www.gangoffour.co.uk.