Gang of Four
February 9, 2019
“Gang of Four” projected just atop the red arch that mounts The Chapel’s stage in San Francisco. It was the only light illuminating the small room just before the band drenched the crowd in radiating guitar noise. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, fans jerked their knees as the drums crept in to renowned opening track, “Anthrax.”
“And I feel like a beetle on its back / And there’s no way for me to get up / Love’ll get you like a case of Anthrax / And that’s something I don’t want to catch.” — Anthrax
Gang of Four is credited as being one of the most influential bands in punk history. Their politically-charged lyrics and stripped-down sound have inspired legends like Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe. And even though there’s only one remaining member — guitarist Andy Gill — it was no shocker that the show sold out. Sure, the set differed from the band’s founding days. The question is — does it matter?
People still went mad for Gill; egging him on as he unceasingly smashed his guitar into the stage. His stoic presence fused with the intense energy of frontman John “Gaoler” Sterry, who ran from mic to mic, jolted, danced and wailed on his knees. Sterry didn’t ask the crowd to pay attention. He demanded it. He was all over the place — spastically jerking his hips and giving life to words written to evoke activism and anarchy.
Bassist Thomas McNeice helped keep the swagger alive while Tobias Humble smashed on drums, but it was Sterry that really stole the show. It didn’t matter that he’s only been part of GOF since 2011; fans still yelped for iconic hits like funk-inspired “Paralysed” (Solid Gold, 1981) and “Natural’s Not in It” (Entertainment!, 1979). They also danced and shimmed along to newer tracks “Isle of Dogs” (What Happens Next, 2015) and 2018 single, “Lucky.”
The British post-punk band formed in 1977 and originally consisted of Gill, singer Jon King, bassist Dave Allen, and drummer Hugo Burnham. There’s been many lineups over the years and for a short stint between 2004 and 2006 original members reunited. But today Gill is the sole original member, bringing the guitar bravado and rebellious heart that initially put GOF on the map.
Attacking the audience with funk-infused bass and drums, abrasive guitar riffs, and cerebral lyrics, the set felt exciting and radical. GOF create noise and texture with layers of rich sound using a variety of instruments and objects. At one point Sterry swung a piece of metal against a microwave atop a black cloth-covered box, generating the opening beat for “He’d Send in the Army” (Solid Gold, 1981).
And they still offer all the elements that made their 1979 debut, “Entertainment!,” one of the landmark albums of the last 35 years. That record talked about politics, feminism, and commodification. While there are many stylistic differences, Gill admits that “the observations and perspectives of the debut album feel like observations and perspectives on today’s world.”
Ten studio albums down, GOF are as groundbreaking as ever. They’re releasing their latest record, Happy Now, in March. It also marks their third PledgeMusic campaign, which makes it possible for fans to maintain a genuine connection with the band, with experiences like meet-and-greets and hanging out in the studio to listen to the record.
Regardless of the lineup, fans love GOF because they’re honest and make music aimed at smashing sexism, racism, and encouraging independent thought. They’re packed with both rebellious angst and heavy grooves that will make you dance as much as you throw your fists in the air.
Closing the night with “To Hell With Poverty” (Another Day, Another Dollar EP, 1982), the band shook hands with fans before disappearing side stage. People filtered out of the venue roused up, eager for more, and definitely paying attention.
The night began with an exciting opening set by San Francisco’s Kamikaze Palm Tree. The experimental psych, noise, surf-inspired band consists of drummer/guitarist/vocalist Dylan Hadley and guitarist Cole Berliner. They set the tone for an exceptionally entertaining night.
Gang of Four
Anthrax I Where the Nightingale Sings I Not Great Men I Toreador I Paralysed I I Parade Myself I What We All Want I Natural’s Not in It I Lucky I Damaged Goods I Isle of Dogs I Why Theory? I I Love a Man in a Uniform I At Home He’s a Tourist I I Found That Essence Rare II He’d Send in the Army
Find out more about Gang of Four on their website.
Kamikaze Palm Tree:
Check out Kamikaze Palm Tree here.