Oh that I could have been there when the newly reformed Gang of Four played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival May 1. Or that I had cash and free time enough to fly to Chicago, or any other major city on the band’s U.S. tour itinerary. Why? Well, if there were a Mount Rushmore dedicated to post-punk rock, this band would be all four faces.
Few editorials are more tiresome than that of one person in full reminiscence mode about how the rock bands of his day were so much better than the rock bands of today. It’s a trap I hoped to avoid, even as I moped through my 20s listening to the older generation wax glories over “The Beatles and the Stones.” So indulge me, even if you can’t accept an apology.
Listening to Gang of Four’s Entertainment! LP almost 25 years since its release, it remains one of the few perfect rock albums in existence. The taut energy of its grooves, the restive fury of silence between beats, the sheer intelligence of its Marxist-inspired lyrics—four young men from Leeds, U.K., put it all on the map for the first time, and no one’s bettered it since. Well, maybe Joy Division the year prior, in 1979. But that’s another editorial.
It was at a 1983 neighborhood Super Bowl party that I got my first introduction, proving that Super Bowl parties are good for something. The parents watched the game. The kids watched someone’s videotaped copy of a concert film titled Urgh: A Music War. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Watching Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill strut and strum his way through “He’d Send in the Army” was so undeniably, essentially different from anything else, you knew you were witness to something special. Hearing Andy Gill strut and strum his way through the same song was—forgive the clichÃ©—a revelation.
As an exchange student in Germany the summer of that same year, I bought my very own copy of Entertainment! at a Hamburg record store. After lunching on potatoes, my host brother Claudio and I mocked the beat to every song on the album using a basement drum set. Now that’s summertime fun.
I never had the pleasure of seeing Gang of Four live in their early to mid-’80s heyday, but a certain ad sales person here at the paper has. In the interest of protecting him from the jealous, I’ll skip his name.
Loads of bands attempt the profound statement through really, really bad poetry or downright embarrassing, if not adolescent, pretenses. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor is one of the worst offenders. For comparison’s sake, place Reznor’s “The Perfect Drug” alongside Gang of Four’s “Anthrax.” I rest my case. Forget “relevance.” Gang of Four’s songs will always matter on a permanent level because they tackled history, commercialism and the clinical aspects of human relationships in music that didn’t sound like a fancy reworking of blues or psychedelia. It was all brutal rhythm.
Anyone who’s read the recent popular press knows there’s talk of how this band influenced other acts such as Fugazi, Bloc Party and Futureheads. Watch these pages for local concert information about the last two. Or, for the real thing, book your plane ticket to Chicago. Now.