Reviews of shows I've been to (and maybe you have too!)

Gang of Four @ 9:30 Club (2/9/11)

The post-punk revival continues, three decades on. Whereas the arena-rock bands are just coasting by for the money, the punks are still trying to inspire revolution (though admittedly in a generation that now consists of their offspring). Of all the survivors, Gang of Four held the most potential for being as authentic in their current incarnation as they were at their birth, given a combustible mix of the current political situation and their blatant left-wing philosophy. Throw in a performance in the nation’s capital, and you had all the ingredients necessary for more than just a show, but a call to arms.

While not quite matching that lofty expectation, the show at 9:30 Club was nonetheless a lesson in entertainment (pun intended).  After a worthless opening set from some anonymous Canadian band, the so-called “Gang of Two” appeared.  For a band so reliant upon its rhythm section, it was a tad ironic that neither the original drummer nor bass player remained.  Perhaps I focused on this aspect too much, as my initial response to the songs was one of disappointment. Neither “Ether” nor “Anthrax” maintained its original punch, and few of the newer songs rose above background music. The bass was mixed extremely low, the drums snapped instead of thudded, and the entire beat seemed to be off-kilter (relative to the original versions). Even worse, lead singer Jon King was barely audible as he ran from microphone to microphone, either searching for one that was functional or just being spastic. As the show progressed, I tended to lean towards the latter explanation. King performed like a combination of Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten, playing to the crowd while taunting them at the same time, bouncing off his bandmates, all while screaming lyrics above the raucous music. He even stripped off his shirt at one point as he crouched behind the speakers, waiting as Andy Gill performed his showcase “A Fruitfly in the Beehive”. For his part, Gill was deadly serious throughout the show, as if every lick he played was a bullet being fired against tyranny. Of all the band members, he sounded the best and played with the most passion (if the least amount of movement).

Gang of Four

Adding to the confusing stage behavior, there was surprisingly little commentary between songs.  Only a brief comment about D.C. being the home of the government preceded “Not Great Men.”  Otherwise, the band was forcing the crowd to respond to the music, with limited success, save for a few aging punks soaking in the nostalgia.  Only when the opening howls of “To Hell With Poverty!” began did the show truly pick up steam, as the rhythm section came to life and finally gave the crowd a beat worth moving to.  From there, the show was a full-speed locomotive barreling towards Armageddon, with the new song “Do As I Say” climaxing the main set in rollicking fashion.  The brief wait before the encore did nothing to diminish the energy in the building, as the band returned to deliver “Return the Gift” and “Damaged Goods” with as much vigor as they would have had in 1980.  The mood must have been contagious as the band returned (unexpectedly to most in the crowd) for a second time to blaze through “At Home He Feels Like a Tourist,” leaving all present breathless after an exhilarating 20 minute finale.  Excepting the surprising absence of “I Love a Man In Uniform,” which I kept anticipating at each encore, the strength at the end of the set more than managed to erase the weakness of the beginning.  After all these years, Gang of Four refuse to either burn out or fade away.

Set List:

  1. You’ll Never Pay for the Farm
  2. Not Great Men
  3. Ether
  4. I Parade Myself
  5. Paralysed
  6. A Fruitfly in the Beehive
  7. Anthrax
  8. What We All Want
  9. I Party All the Time
  10. Why Theory?
  11. You Don’t Have to be Mad
  12. We Live as We Dream, Alone
  13. To Hell With Poverty
  14. Do As I Say

Encore:

  1. Return the Gift
  2. Damaged Goods

Encore 2:

  1. At Home He’s a Tourist
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