Gang Of Four Play 'Entertainment!', Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Formed at Leeds University in 1977, they dragged punk's three-chord trick into a radical and subversive new direction by marrying its guitar-driven rage to funk's nervy rhythms, annexed to a radical political agenda. It was never quite entertainment - hence the ironic exclamation mark in their debut album's title - but it was intense, visceral, and very much of its time.

The 50-ish front man, Jon King, remains as grim-faced and earnest as ever, still barking out his student dialectics over Andy Gill's gun-bursts of guitar and the twitchy, thunderous rhythms of the bassist Dave Allen and the drummer Hugo Burnham. For a band whose agenda was deconstruction - musically, lyrically and politically - dedicating an evening to reconstructing the 1979Entertainment! seems odd.

Emerging from the shadows in a black suit, blond hair askew, Gill's police-siren guitar chimes the intro to "Return the Gift", and King - aptly attired in a Mao-like tunic - explodes on to the stage like a man possessed, convulsing as he bellows his workers' refrain: "Please send me evenings and weekends." It's rapturously received by a blokey, mainly middle-aged crowd - a reminder of this great music's enduring force. But for all King's passion, there's something joyless about his hectoring tone.

The singer's stern demeanour and lack of humour, once a sign of youthful rebellion, now seem curmudgeonly and contrived. They're into the third song before a mumbled, 'Good evening', and the next time he addresses us, 40 minutes later, is to announce curtly: "Thank you. That's it. Good night." But he is mesmerising to watch.

If Burnham appears to have trebled in size, then at least he uses the extra weight to powerful effect, while Gill still wields his guitar like a weapon. But the clean acoustics of the Barbican Hall, the sterile atmosphere generated by its all-seated auditorium, and some technical gremlins - including a faulty microphone - combine to dilute the effect. These are technical problems, but at £25 for an hour's entertainment, they are not easily forgiven.

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