Gang of Four
March 21, 2022
Photos by Nicole Baptista
Gang Of Four sold out The Independent in San Francisco on the night of the 13th, but walking into the venue, you might not think that the audience was there to see the post-punk legends. When you go to see a band that has such a legacy behind them, you’re bound to see some people that have been fans for almost as long as the band’s been around. But the crowd at the Gang Of Four show was almost made up entirely of people who, from appearances, had been there from the beginning, if not damn close to it.
To say that Gang Of Four’s set was blistering would be an understatement. The band barely paused between songs, Jon King’s shirt becoming drenched with sweat by the middle of the band’s set as he writhed and ran and bounced along the stage. Sara Lee effortlessly locked down the rhythm section with Hugo Burnham, whose face stayed still as stone for almost the entirety of the set, only breaking into a smile a couple of times.
But of course that brings us to the elephant in the room: the Andy Gill-shaped hole that’s been left since his passing in 2020, which paved the way for Jon King to regain the name rights of the Gang Of Four brand. I’m not here to get into which iteration of Gang Of Four is the more “legitimate” of the two, but credit has to be given to the late Andy Gill for keeping the band going following Jon King’s departure in 2011. Arguments could be made for the “Andy Gill-era” of Gang Of Four being a glorified cover band, seeing as there was only one original member left in the line-up, but if that’s the case then The Cure have been a cover band since 1989.
And that leads us to the person filling in the monstrous void left by the death of Andy Gill: David Pajo. Formerly of Slint, Zwan, and a handful of other others, he took to the stage dressed in a dark gray suit, not unlike the sort of stagewear that Andy Gill himself sported throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. As soon as he began playing the opening guitar line of “Return The Gift,” though, the similarities between the two continued: he sounded exactly like Gill. It was uncanny. You could close your eyes and imagine that you were at one of the band’s shows circa 1983.
And that crowd that I mentioned earlier? As soon as the band launched into their opening song, the crowd came alive with an energy and enthusiasm that I haven’t seen in a long time, screaming the words to songs like “Not Great Men” and “We Live As We Dream, Alone” right back at Jon King. It also felt like a crowd who knew that they were there to see a band whose politics are so ingrained in their lyrics: early in the show, Jon King pointed to the band’s backdrop, which consisted of the flags for LGBTQ pride, Black Lives Matter, ANTIFA, and Ukraine, among others, and proudly declared, “These are our flags!,” immediately being met with a round of rapturous applause and cheers.
Playing Andy Gill’s guitar parts wasn’t the only thing that David Pajo did, as he also sang Andy’s backing vocal parts on songs like “Anthrax,” “Ether,” and “He’d Send In The Army,” as well as singing the lead part of “What We All Want,” the opening song from the 1981 album Solid Gold. Joining the band onstage to sing some of the higher vocal parts of songs like “Call Me Up” and “I Love A Man In Uniform” were Lauren and Jillian from opener Gal Pals.
The set was everything that someone could hope for from a band whose music is just as vital today as it was at the time of its release. With political and social unrest in the air, we need a band like Gang Of Four back onstage to not just entertain us, but also to inform us and remind us that we can overcome the various injustices in the world. I’m always going to have love in my heart for Andy Gill and everything that he did and stood for, but I would be lying if I said that this current iteration of the band didn’t blow me away.
Opening band Gal Pals reminded me of the band The Raincoats, but filtered through a 2010s indie pop lens. Their set consisted mostly of material from last year’s album Unconditional Lover, with singer/guitarist Lauren Mikus, bassist Beth B, and drummer/backing vocalist Jillian Trilley exchanging more than a few smiles between each other during their set. Overall they were the perfect kind of band to warm up the crowd to the assault that was to come.