Everyone, including Gang of Four members themselves, talks about how the original lineup's 2005 reunion tour was a miracle: a reformation 25 years later that picked up the agitated energy and momentum of the defining post-punk act's early days as if no time had passed at all. But last night, Gang of Four came to the Showbox with only half of its original members--the group's constant core duo of singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill--and touring their first new album of original material since 1995, the solid (if not up to 1979 revolutionary levels) Content. People were saying the replacement rhythm section was anemic--and this is a band whose rhythms are as crucial to their songs as are Gill's guitar squalls or King's situationist sloganeering--so could these guys still deliver the damaged goods?
Turns out: Hell, yes. Emphatically so. Nothing at all wrong with the new rhythm section, and the new songs for the most part fit neatly alongside the classics. King and Gill and crew took the stage in business jackets (you know King is an ad exec, right?), and while Gill stood stoic and stern-faced all night, dealing out his peals of guitar feedback with something almost like scorn but somehow friendlier, King flailed and raised his arms above his head or in a cross and danced pretty damn enthusiastically for a '79er, and soon enough his jacket was hanging open over his bare chest and dangling backstage laminate.
(Full set list and more words after the jump.)I realize that if I were King, I would totally be doing this, and tough break for ex band members, because it looks like he's having a hell of a lot of fun. The crowd is loving it as well, screaming out for songs, dancing around, clapping along to the bridge of "Natural's Not In It," a solitary mohawk flopping around in the pit. The band leaned heavily on their early material, but also included songs of the new album and even Gill and King's 1995 album Shrinkwrapped, and it all sounded of a piece. The best of the new songs, "You'll Never Pay for the Farm" and "A Fruitfly in the Beehive," could've been lost tracks from the Entertainment!/Solid Gold era to my ears.
But of course, the highlights were the old "hits": "Damaged Goods" (saved for last, with "goodbye goodbye goodbye" closing the show, after two hyper-obvious encore breaks), "To Hell With Poverty" (in which Gill plays the most badass riff he's ever written and looks as though he knows it, well-chuffed), "(Love Like) Anthrax" (on which Gill and King's crossed-wire vocal interplay was interrupted by Gill violently tossing his guitar and the two of them throwing it back and forth--I'm certain that if only I had studied Brechtian theater a little more in school, I would be able to discern some deeper sociopolitical implications from what otherwise might come off as just jubilant horseplay--same goes for King's staggering between each of the stage's three mikes on "Ether"). I never got to see these guys in their original run (I was 0-2 years old, so), and for some reason I missed the mid-'00s reunion shows, but after last night I feel significantly less like I've missed out.
"You'll Never Pay for the Farm"
"Not Great Men"
"I Parade Myself"
"A Fruitfly in the Beehive"
"(Love Like) Anthrax"
"It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good"
"What We All Want"
"We Live as We Dream, Alone"
"To Hell With Poverty"
"Do as I Say"
(world's most obvious encore break)
"Return the Gift"
"Natural's Not in It"
(world's second most obvious encore break)
"I Party All the Time"