Gang of Four
February 19, 2011
Better than: Other reunion tours.
Things got a little rowdy up toward the front at Gang of Four
's show Saturday at the Fillmore, but no one took a beating like Jon King's microwave. The singer of this venerable English post-punk band rolled a real microwave out on a cart during "He'd Send in the Army," picked up what looked like a large ax handle, and then mercilessly thwapped the thing into a puree of plastic and circuit boards. At first King's pounding merely bent the microwave's sides, sending tremendous thuds into the nearby microphone in time with the song. But soon, shards of the box-cooker -- and even the whole front panel -- shot out into the crowd and were snatched up like the instant souvenirs.
King's choice of targets was a little weird -- in whose mind does a microwave symbolize the alienation of consumer culture? -- but the intent of the stunt, which he's done for years now
, was clear: This band does not take anything lightly, not even now, more than 30 years removed from the desolate social and political climate of its beginnings. Gang of Four on Saturday retained the edge that earned its status as one of post-punk's most penetrating agitators. The microwave was just absurd punctuation.
Content, earlier this year, pretty much shattering expectations of what reunited bands are supposed to do. Several of the songs on Content rank with the band's best, and on Saturday, the shrill guitar jabs and rumbling bass underpinning "She Said" and "Who Am I" fit right in with classics like "Ether" and "Return the Gift."
Gang of Four, with King and guitarist Andy Gill as the only original members, released its ninth album,
King, still cutting a sharp silhouette into his 50s, rallied around the wide Fillmore stage like a tiger anticipating feeding time, and threw his hands wildly into the air. Gill, dressed in a usual suit (these are trouser-punks, not safety-pin punks) appeared positively snakelike behind his stratocaster, peering out of slitted eyes as the room reached full boil. Bassist Thomas McNiece, who replaced original Go4 member Dave Allen in 2004, tore around in a fancy suit and long dreadlocks, somehow recapturing Gang of Four's deep, yet trebly bass sound. Gill and King seemed to have hung on to a lot of their fury into their '50s. Gill drew howling, squawking licks and piercing chords out of his guitar, and although King's vocals were always more about spirit than tone, they still sound as outraged as they did in the '80s.
Nothing about Gang of Four's best work is especially easy to take -- these songs implicate themselves, and their listeners, in their critiques of consumer culture, and take as much toll sonically as they do thematically. But what we should expect from this band is a heavy kind of release. Watching King howl and hop frantically through "To Hell With Poverty" -- and feeling the floorboards of the Fillmore shudder with the crowd's enthusiasm -- it was hard to think of many other bands that could direct such public sentiment with such personal feeling.
opened the evening on a lighter note, joking about how once, in San Francisco, they gave Jello Biafra a ride home. Well-honed and energetic, the band recalled the bulk of melodic '90s rock, and seemed to win over the crowd pretty quickly -- there were shouts of "you rule!" by the end. So, uh, try not to judge Hollerado by its seeming joke of a name.
The Canadian indie-rockers of
Obligatory S.F. love: "It feels like coming home somehow," Gill said toward the end. "We do love San Francisco."
Random aside: I love that there was a time in punk/New Wave when you could be totally radical while wearing a three-piece suit.
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