Gang of Four is one of Britain’s most influential and revered post-punk groups, probably best known for their 1979 debut ‘Entertainment’ and the 1981 classic ‘Solid Gold’.

The original lineup consisted of guitarist/songwriter Andy Gill (the only founder member who remains with the band today), lead vocalist Jon King, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugh Burnham. After burning brightly, by the mid-1980s the group had drifted apart after management conflicts and personality differences. Gill and King would collaborate again in the 1990s for two more albums, ‘Mall’ and the underrated ‘Shrinkwrapped’.

Gill, over the past several years, has enjoyed the exuberant comradeship of three youthful performers. Although it couldn’t have been easy to man the mike after King’s long and regal reign, edgy vocalist John ‘Gaoler’ Sterry came aboard after the release of ‘Content’. Bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Jonny Finnegan also brought along a fresh enthusiasm for classic tracks and a lust for new material.

Gang of Four seem to have always had a soft spot for Chicago and deserve a night of their own, but on this occasion, they were part of a three-band night and couldn’t fulfil the audience’s desire for an encore. There was a sense of urgency that prevailed because of the pressing stage times, the band sandwiched between Travis Egedy AKA Pictureplane, a Brooklyn-based electronica ensemble, and headliners the Faint, a band that have been around for more than a decade and who have a tremendous following. Their frenetic blips, bleeps, jerky actions and dizzying strobes would later send the crowd into a frenzy.

Some bands do best when they have an audience who already know the material. There were a lot of GOF newcomers at this show who did not know the material nor the often mind-bending lyrics, and because up in the balcony the lyrics were not always clear, the newcomers missed a chance to appreciate the lyrical nuance, but what they did clearly comprehend and gravitate towards was the band’s intensity and tight musicianship.

The band members came onstage without ceremony and plunged right in. They opened with the apocalyptic ‘Anthrax’ and followed up with ‘Where the Nightingale Sings,’ the first track of their new, ninth album, ‘What Happens Next’. The song began, as it does on the recording, with an excerpt of a 1937 Robert Johnson record, which from the balcony, was a bit muddled, but the curious Asiatic chords really contributed to the full-bodied sound.

The Metro turned out to be a fairly good venue for the GOF as the stage is low-set, the balcony is unobstructed and there is a laid-back feel to the place. The security folks performed their jobs and did not interfere otherwise with the primarily youthful audience, and because drinks are sold in several areas, fans could leave their coveted spots and return easily without disrupting their peers, something that is often a problem at much larger venues.

That said, the set went smoothly and drew from a lot of classic material, but considerably less from the new album. What made the shorter-than-desired set momentous was the sheer vitality the band members exhibited. Said one young woman who had never heard of the GOF until that evening, “I’ve never seen such an energetic band before. They were great.”

Energetic indeed, with ‘Gaoler’ moving stealthily across the stage like a predatory panther and at times kneeling before the excited first row. He put his own spin on the grinding, repetitive and lyrical ‘Of Great Men’. Gill’s intense, effects-driven instrumental ‘Paradise’ allowed the vivacious vocalist to have a well-deserved breather from the hot lights. ‘Gaoler’ banged on the maracas and reached into his young but sophisticated soul on ‘Isle of Dogs’, one of the new album’s most cleverly arranged and evocative ballads.

Gill displayed his usual instrumental confidence and, although he said little, it was clear that he enjoyed cavorting with McNeice and Sterry.

Early hit ‘Damaged Goods’ got an excellent response, even though loyal fans probably wished for some lengthier solo work by grandmaster Gill. ‘At Home He’s a Tourist’ proved that Andy and John can sync up their gifts with acuity. Classic ‘To Hell with Poverty’ lifted spirits with its rebellious ranting and frantic pulse. ‘Gaoler’ has a disarming crackle in his vocals that really made this version sizzle. Gill’s piercingly high notes and ever-grinding riffs and Finnegan’s sharp backbeat also laid claim.

With the need to fit in three big name bands, there was a rush to get acts on and off this evening, and that was probably why the GOF could not perform an encore, yet new audience members seemed sated and delighted that they had gotten a chance to hear and dance to this mix of new and classic material. And the old guard? They got to sing along to hits that would inspire hundreds of other artists, but everyone got to witness a truly energetic performance.

Photos by Chris Torem

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