<preform>My Chemical Romance, University of Newcastle</br>Gang Of Four, University of Leeds</preform>

There's something of the night about him
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The Independent Culture

'This is the second song I ever wrote. It's about being stabbed in the kindergarten." Gerard Way, singer with rising New Jersey "emo" stars My Chemical Romance, says this with a delicious combination of deadpan matter-of-factness and just a sprinkling of mischief. Considering the fact that he introduces another song as being about the time that he (yes, he) got pregnant, you might want to take it all with a scoop of Saxa.

'This is the second song I ever wrote. It's about being stabbed in the kindergarten." Gerard Way, singer with rising New Jersey "emo" stars My Chemical Romance, says this with a delicious combination of deadpan matter-of-factness and just a sprinkling of mischief. Considering the fact that he introduces another song as being about the time that he (yes, he) got pregnant, you might want to take it all with a scoop of Saxa.

Rock has a vacancy sign swinging in the shop window. While Manson is apparently on a sabbatical and Placebo disappear until 2006, there's a gap for a photogenic, eyeliner-smeared star with something of the night about him.

Into town, with perfect timing, swings Mr Way - he shares his name, Google fans, with the address of a New Zealand old people's home - in a black shirt and red tie, ready to inject a desperately-needed shot of glamour into a scene (emo) where the height of sexiness is normally New Found Glory's baggy shorts or Jimmy Eat World's bowling shirts.

Sartorially, My Chemical Romance cover all bases: a guitarist with a mohawk, another guitarist with an afro (everyone from The Killers to The Kaisers has one nowadays), a bassist in a Joy Division T-shirt, and a drummer with a shirt collar poking out from underneath a sensible woollen sweater, with the emphasis, one imagines, on the "sweat" (his drumstick moves so fast that the stage lights lend it a peculiar strobing effect, like an aeroplane propeller in an old movie).

But it's Way, with his classic bedroom-wall good looks, who annexes the eyes: with his upturned nose and dimples in the corner of his mouth when he smiles, he's a cross between a cuter, chubbier version of Ville Valo from H.I.M., and Ewan MacGregor as Curt Wilde in Velvet Goldmine.

He could, conceivably, single-handedly redeem an entire musical style, and not just by being a babe. Emo is a peculiarly American phenomenon. The idea of expressing emotional vulnerability over indie guitar music has been with us since the 1980s. But whereas for us it meant the exquisite subtlety and irony of The Smiths, for our Stateside cousins it invariably means jumping up and down and screaming about how your girlfriend's left you and life sucks.

Not that My Chemical Romance are an exception, if truth be told: their new single "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" has a stereotypical one-TWO-one-TWO beat, and lyrically is an archetypal example (it's basically Gloria Gaynor in reverse: "I Will NOT Survive"). But their songs - a typical title is "Honey, This Mirror Isn't Big Enough For the Two of Us" - are laced with enough wit, and delivered with enough of a twinkle, to make them more exhilarating than anything the genre normally offers.

And if Gerard Way isn't a superstar within 12 months, I'm retiring to that Kiwi rest home myself.

Andy Kershaw looks unusually jittery as he takes to the stage of his old stamping ground, Leeds SU (where, he never tires of reminding us, he once booked The Clash). He's here tonight to introduce another band he booked in that period, and he isn't the only fortysomething feeling misty-eyed (Keith Allen is only the most famous of scores of follically-impoverished veterans paying homage).

Gang Of Four, you see, actually formed at the pub around the corner, The Woolpack (or something), and this is something of a homecoming. The last time Jon King, Andy Gill, Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham trod these (or any) boards together, it was over 20 years ago and the Miner's Strike hadn't happened yet.

They never cracked the mainstream - "At Home He's a Tourist" (number 58 in June 1979, says Guinness) was the nearest thing they had to a hit single - but their influence is immense. King's lyrical critiques of capitalism employed the clever device of expressing the imagined inner monologues and outer dialogues of the typical consumer, or a bellicose squaddie, or a send-'em-home racist ("On my first day, I opened my eyes/ Guess where! In a super store/ Surrounded by luxury goods/ I need a freezer, I need a hi-fi... One day old, and I'm living on credit!"). It's a technique with far greater enduring potency than the straightforward sloganeering of their punk near-peers (no "White Riot" or "If the Kids are United" for GOF), and their music remains intellectually nourishing (the great Greil Marcus, tellingly, is besotted). Gang Of Four are perhaps the single most compelling case that what followed punk was far more interesting than punk itself.

In some ways, times have changed. I'm not supposed to be here tonight, because the once uncompromisingly left-wing quartet have tied up an "exclusive" deal with a glossy dad-rock monthly. But if one erases such vulgar considerations, an even more remarkable fact emerges: regardless of their (superb) polemical power, their sonic relevance is greater still.

It helps if you close your eyes. King, Gill, Allen and Burnham look like cool dads nowadays. King, worryingly, looks oddly Bez-like, with his emaciated cheekbones and staring eyes, and constantly-rattling tambourine. The comparison grows stronger when he starts to dance, leaping across the backline like a drugged chimpanzee, then scurrying on all fours like a Gregor Samsa-sized cockroach. It's possibly the most embarrassing terpsichorean display since OMD's Andy McLuskey was last on Top of the Pops. Dad! No! You're making the kids blush! And yet, they sound fantastic. White funk - usually a pejorative term (especially when the mean outcome is beige, à la Jamiroquai or Level 42) - actually becomes a positive when it gets really white, and all the sex and lubriciousness of black funk is excised and replaced by northern English angst, Weltschmerz and other borrowed Germanisms.

It's often terrifyingly minimalistic. At one point during "He'd Send in the Army", Burnham hits 33 successive rimshots into the abyss, on a drumkit bought from ELO's Bev Bevan on eBay (and more accustomed to the phat boogie beats of "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Livin' Thing" than this skinny, angular fare), with only a few spasms from Gill's guitar for company.

At a time when everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Radio 4 to tonight's support act The Departure is copying their style, this reunion could be said to be timely, even historic (had GOF themselves not echoed Ford by declaring "History's Bunk!"). But Gang Of Four are a band whose importance is not contingent on passing trends. Five years ago would have been as good a time to discover them as five years hence. Take your time. Hurry up.

s.price@independent.co.uk

My Chemical Romance: Islington Academy, London N1 (020 7288 4400), Fri

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