Do you want to be in my Gang? Oh yeah.
John 'Gaoler' Sterry. Rick de Pizzol photo.
Gang of Four
God God Dammit Dammit
Lion Arts Centre, Adelaide
November 5, 2019
Gang of Four are touring Australia and New Zealand and played Adelaide earlier this week. They were fucking brilliant. Exciting. Brutal. Gigantic. Fun, too. But ... pointed and magnificent.
It's a no-brainer. Go see them while you can.
Right, well. A little context. When I was asking a few friends if they were going, one said, 'they sound like every other band' ... well, no they don't. See, the thing is, over the last 40 years a lot of other
bands have picked up on their style, which is now familiar.
Guitarist Andy Gill and drumer Tobias Humble. Rick de Pizzol photo.
We all know someone into Green Day, who is surprised that bands like The Clash sound “just like Green Day” ... you get the idea? I was listening to The Jam's first LP the other day and was struck by how similar the guitar and vocals sounded, partly to Wilko Johnson's – but more bigly (if I may use a Trumpism here), like Wilko's major influence, Mick Green of The Pirates.
And hey, recently I met someone who thought Kylie wrote “The Locomotion” as well... it didn't seem right to pop their bubble... anyway, I may have wandered a little.
When Go4 started up, there were no other bands like them. On top of which, there is a definite Australian/ New Zealand context: The Birthday Party were directly influenced by two English bands who they saw live in London in 1980: The Pop Group, and The Gang of Four. That alone should make you sufficiently interested to venture out of the house.
People have a certain type of expectation with bands who started more than a decade ago; the phrase 'the good old days' seems to rise to the surface like bad yeast these days. The Buzzcocks came to Australia - including “difficult” Adelaide - frequently over the last 20 or so years, slowly building up the numbers of folks coming out to see them, running from a few hundred (including at this venue) to over 800 (and consistently packing out) at another, right up until shortly before
A few months ago I did an interview with Andy Gill. This is nicked from that interview:
Moi: I thought "Entertainment!" absolutely reeked of belligerence (not just anger) and a rather bleak humour - I loved that complexity, it just seemed to be made up of interlocking meshes. How does it feel playing the songs after so long?
Andy Gill: Yes, I suppose it is belligerent and it is full of bleak humour, as you say. It feels normal to me playing the songs. There have been periods, sometimes of a few years, when Gang of Four has not been operational and then I have to relearn how to play them properly. One of the interesting things for me is playing those old songs next to the new songs in a set and the way they seem to inform each other to create a context for each other.
Seeing is believing: the older and the newer songs slot together seamlessly. One friend wasn't familiar with either, and couldn't tell. On tour, the Buzzcocks mostly did songs from their first three LPs, partly because they mostly got a negative reaction with their newer songs (assorted drinking implements were hurled). Tonight, all – that is all - of the Go4's newer songs are well-received - partly because they blend so well into the overall sound of the band.
Tonight the Gang play one set in favour of the 40th of their first LP, “Entertainment!”, and the second a selection from later LPs. So, no, the Go4 weren't “like the old days”. Perhaps then, some 40 years ago, they had a different energy, a different purpose. Now, the outfit radiates massive power, poignancy and restrained rage.
A couple of people have wheeled out the old chestnut, “how many of the original members are there?” Well, there were only ever two (just like the Buzzcocks after 1992, in fact). Go4 was Jon King and Andy Gill's concept; they had the songs and taught them to Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen. Burnham and Allen toured and recorded with Go4 as recently as 2006 and 2008 (respectively); but these days Jon King has a different (though related) career and hasn't sung for Go4 for seven years and two LPs ago.
Instead, his place has been taken by a bloody talented (and violently energetic) chap called John "Gaoler" Sterry. Tobias Humble is their current drummer, while Thomas McNeice took over bass in 2008. Frankly, this outfit is huge. McNeice and Gaoler move about the entire stage, criss-crossing each other, almost telepathic in knowing where each will be. McNeice has a real affinity for the groove, it's just one bloody wonderful rumblin' pulse. Be still my shaky old heart. Gaoler uses each of the three mics at different times - both he and McNeice are careful to dodge around Gill who, rather Shelley-esquely, mostly plays rather than leaps about. But his playing ... it's all either bang-on accurate, or it's deliberately at variance. I won't tell you the song they open with - that would spoil a rather beautiful surprise.
On bass, Mr Thomas McNeice. Rick De Pizzol photo.
Throughout the gig (with Chris Loft's sharp, smart light show) there's that huge, chest-fibrillating bass (two fucking Ampeg fridges, FFS), those driving, precise drums and those forceful lyrics delivered with a touch of anguish, brilliantly delivered by Gaoler. And let's not forget the irate echidna shoved into each earhole - Gill's abrasive, spiky, venomous guitar.
Sorry, I'm still buzzing and fidgeting in my seat. All I want to do is go to my records and slap this band on the turntable. Again.
The Gang did a 12-song set, followed by a short walk-off and back on (I don't think they like the “encore” nonsense) for a further eight songs. The first set was all but one song of “Entertainment!”, plus “Paralysed” from their second LP, “Solid Gold”.
The second set was more varied - three more from “Solid Gold”, one each from “Songs of the Free”, 1995's “Shrinkwrapped”, “What Happens Next?” (from 2015 - see the I94bar review here)
and a solitary one from their current LP, “Happy Now?” Telling you what they were would spoil the surprise, of course. They ended as they began, with a brilliant piece of aural destruction (bordering on desecration, really) ...
I will say that this is the only gig during which I saw a guitarist sign a chit for a guitar which he has clearly buggered up. No, not smashed to bits. But he well and truly broke the poor thing. A Fender,
The support, God God Dammit Dammit are a ten-piece, which must make rehearsals easy on the wallet, but the payday must be a tad disappointing. How the hell they manage to co-ordinate everyone into the one room at the same time is mystifying: I have problems co-ordinating three musicians and me. GGDD been around Adelaide for some years now, and, sadly, this is the first time I've seen them. It won't be the last: funk and soul and gospel. And they're brilliant. No hope of upstaging the main act, I'm afraid, but an excellent support.
I'll see them again.
Anyway. Merch? two t-shirt designs, badges, postcards and - be really quick: there were a handful of signed test pressings of their current LP, “Happy Now?”. Also, temptingly, there was one (and one only) very battered (if not completely rooted) old microwave oven. Which, to be fair, had given its life in the most spectacular way imaginable.
The rest of the Go4's tour dates are:
7 - The Zoo, Brisbane
8 - Manning Bar, Sydney
9 – The Croxton, Melbourne
12 - Tuning Fork, Auckland
13 - San Fran, Wellington
14 - San Fran, Wellington
16 - The Curtin, Melbourne
No matter what, if you ever loved this broken-tender pop, see-saw savage punk band called The Gang of Four, you cannot, must not miss them.
Thank you and goodnight. Deborella Orbit photo.