Gang of Four come to Austin: 2005

How much is your legend worth? If you are in a band whose influence grows larger with historical memory every passing year, is it a good move to risk de-mythologizing yourself by appearing in the flesh? It may be safer not to actually exist again, allowing classic recordings and enthusiastic stories of past performances to circulate, keeping the legend intact. But unless you have a successful career composing film music or are otherwise reaping benefits from your decades-old period of popularity, it might be a good career move for aging rockers to show up and play out and get paid. Especially when your new record happens to be nothing more than re-recorded versions of your old classic songs, the profits from which have the distinct advantage of actually going mostly to you (unlike the old records).

Sound cynical? But it’s only fair to judge hard-left and socialist bands by the standards of economic determinism, that wonderfully empowering ideology that relentlessly and dogmatically privileges money as the driving force of history. Despite the lockstep ideological conformism hinted at with song titles such as “Capital, It Fails Us Now”, in the pre-1989 era of the politico-artistic left, a time where legions of disaffected youth looked to Communism and its’ rather less homicidal cousin Socialism as sources for liberation, the Gang of Four nonetheless stood out from the yobbish U.K punk scene. While said subculture increasingly degenerated into the heroin-and-blasphemy (and petty criminality) of the Exploited etc., Gang of Four crafted arty, danceable agit-rock that attracted considerable interest from writers such as Greil Marcus and nowadays many trendoid bands.

The re-formed original lineup came to Austin in October, delivering verbatim blasts and bursts from records such as 1979’s Entertainment! Lanky shouter Jon King displayed utter commitment and intensity as the band played a set of hoary old punk-era tunes, dancing spastically, flailing, gesticulating, demonstrating-what a performer! His riveting stare evidenced total commitment and passion for songs he must have sung thousands of times. Drummer Hugo Burnham was the most musically interesting of the bunch, consistently balancing propulsion with subtlety and distinctive embellishments. Andy Gill, the guitarist, acted the pompous guitar-hero, except for the instrumental skills, sensibly sticking to a nearly melody-free, minimalist-style, and leaving sonic spaces for the drumming-a wise move. Dave Allen never missed a note with his solid, unimaginative blocks of low-end bass frequencies, perhaps inspired by the unedifying banality of Leeds’ industrial buildings and tract housing? Overall the Gang of Four was a disciplined and energetic unit that delivered the material the crowd wanted at a steeper price than the old days. Currency was transferred, ideologies went unchallenged. End of transaction.

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