Last night, Ruth and I, along with our friend Terry, went to see the Gang of Four at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. It’s been a little more than 29 years since the first time I saw the band, when they played the Bradford Ballroom back in 1982. That first show was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them since then.
Ruth and I get there in time for the opening act and we staked out a great spot, up against the barrier in front of the left side of the stage. Good thing we had the barrier to lean on, as I don’t think my back could take standing up for three hours any more.
The opening act was a band from Montreal called Hollerado. I enjoyed their set, enough to look into getting their album after the show. Then, after a 45 minute break, the Gang of Four took the stage. For this tour, Jon King and Andy Gill are joined by Thomas McNeice on bass and Mark Heaney on drums. They were two of the younger people in the club.
The set list mixed a number of songs from the new album in with some of the more jagged old favorites. For example, they did “Anthrax”, but not “I Love a Man In Uniform”. Like every Gang of Four show, the music was loud with moments of piercing feedback. My ears are still ringing today. I’ve got a nice set of earplugs I bought especially for shows like this. Someday, I’m going to have to start remembering to bring them to the concert.
Like most shows I go to these days, the crowd skewed toward an older generation, which is strange because I haven’t aged a bit. A mix of old and not-so-old fans moshed mildly in the middle of the crowd. The energy in the pit picked up during “To Hell with Poverty” and in a blast from the past we were treated to the bouncers tossing a man out after an altercation. He was yelling “He hit me first!” as the bouncers dragged him past us. Odd how the bouncers never get the right guy.
One big change from the ’80s were the number of people recording the show with their phones. I took some pictures with my iPhone. It doesn’t do especially well in low-light conditions. You miss some details, like the safety glass spraying the bouncer when King smashed the pizza oven during “He’d Send in the Army”.
|Click to see the photo album|
|Gang of Four – Paradise 2/7/2011|
The phone does a much better job with videos. Here’s “Not Great Men”:
and “We Live As We Dream, Alone”:
The band’s original drummer, Hugo Burnham, doesn’t tour with the band any more, but since he lives in nearby Gloucester he dropped by to sit in on “Natural’s Not In It”:
and “Damaged Goods”. At the end of “Damaged Goods”, King brought both drummers out on stage to the cheers of the audience:
They always play “Damaged Goods”, but they don’t bring the same frentic energy to the song as they used to. The last few times I’ve been to shows, the song has seemed half a beat slow.
I suspect they’re just tired of it after 30 years.
Even after all the time that’s passed, and with many fewer chemicals coursing through my brain, Gang of Four shows are at least 85% of what they were at their peak. The sound isn’t as fresh and exciting anymore. They’ve been playing for a long time, and I’ve been listening just as long, both to them and to all the other bands that took their cues from “Entertainment!”. But the echoes are still strong. The Gang of Four are just as jagged and edgy as ever, but in a strange way, they’ve become comforting too.