Their influence stretches back two decades, yet there was still shock that Gang of Four could roll back the years with ease.
Their influence stretches back two decades, yet there was still shock that Gang of Four could roll back the years with ease. It has almost become a cliché to namecheck the Leeds quartet as an inspiration, after Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads and The Rapture showed due deference. When news came of a reunion, Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, also came out as an acolyte of the group's mix of scratchy guitars and funk rhythms.
This line-up, together for the first time since 1981, provided the group's classic debut album, Entertainment!. The guitarist Andy Gill, now a producer, and singer Jon King, an internet geek, had collaborated off and on during the Nineties, but now they could work with one of the most effective rhythm sections of its time: bassist Dave Allen, again fresh from the online coalface, and Hugh Burnham, a teacher.
On stage, civilian careers were soon forgotten as the three members of the band's frontline became a constant whirl of motion. Allen and Gill stalked the stage, stopping only to stare defiantly at the audience. Yes, we were paying attention, especially as an energetic King still had the awkward moves David Byrne once borrowed.
Between the lines he barked and howled, this gangly figure ran, or crawled, from one side of the stage to the other. His melodica added to the sound, a reminder that GO4 got their own style by listening to dub reggae. Another time, he battered what looked like a microwave with a piece of metal to create a disconcerting rhythm.
Today's intellectual funkateers hark back to this band's glorious early period, an era its original line-up were keen to replicate. The bulk of the set came from GO4's aggressive first album and its rather murkier 1981 follow-up, Solid Gold. A deadpan Burnham laid down intricate, faultless patterns, which Allen attacked with his jerky bottom end. This was a cast-iron foundation for Gill's scratchy chords and tense feedback.
There was little outward expression of the band's political philosophy, which is a blend of Marxist critique and existentialism. Each instrument (including King's voice) had equal place in the mix and there was no between-song banter; at one point, the singer was rudely interrupted by Gill's guitar just as he was about to speak.
Also lacking was self-conscious irony at a bunch of fortysomethings re-enacting their early twenties. The band may not quite match their old intensity, but each member made it clear that these songs are still important. "At Home He's a Tourist" still rang true about the commodification of culture; "Anthrax" reminded us that most love songs are cliché-ridden pap.
All that was missing was the nightclub classic "I Love a Man in Uniform", from a time when the band aimed for a more melodic, disco-orientated sound. Banned during the Falklands War, it was worth bringing up again. If the rumours that the band are set to re-record their old numbers are true, this is one challenge that they should take on. Several of today's bands may have picked up the Gang's pieces, but no one has remade the mould.Reuse content