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Gang of Four with Hollerado and Moon Women - TLA (Philadelphia) - Saturday, February 5, 2011

12 February 2011

Before last Saturday’s show, it had been almost five and a half years since the last time we’d both seen Gang of Four. Back in 2005, the original lineup of Jon King, Andy Gill, Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham reunited for several rounds of touring in the UK and the US along with an album of re-recorded late ’70s and early ’80s classics called Return the Gift. This time, with only Gill and King remaining, they were back to support Content, their first album of new material since 1996’s Shrinkwrapped. Though Content is far from great, it’s still the strongest album they’ve made since 1982’s Songs of the Free and better and more memorable than 1983’s awful Hard, 1991’s Mall or the aforementioned, so-so Shrinkwrapped.

Still, after having seen them twice with the original lineup, this show was somewhat of a disappointment, though it was far from bad. In fact, the setlist was about as good as one could expect with a healthy selection of Entertainment! numbers (most of side one and “Anthrax”, though interestingly no “At Home He’s a Tourist”), a few from second album Solid Gold (“Paralyzed,” “What We All Want” and “Why Theory”), several selections from Songs of the Free (“We Live as We Dream Alone” and “I Love a Man in a Uniform”, which was played during the encore) and predictably, about half of Content. Even Shrinkwrapped‘s “I Parade Myself” (its best song) got an airing, though they were smart to stick to mainly material from the 1st 3 records as well as the new album. Also, Andy Gill’s guitar tone and sound is absolutely unbelievable. The man is an absolute marvel, as is Jon King, in his 50s and yet moving around effortlessly like someone half his age. One could only imagine how much energy they had back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

So what was different about this night’s show versus the previous tour? Well, simply put they really miss Allen and Burnham. New band members Mark Heaney and Thomas McNeice are fine, competent musicians and they played all of the songs well, but there’s just a magic with the original lineup that they’ve never been able to replicate without it. Plus, the last time we saw them, they were simply on fire and had an energy that was missing both from this show as well as the May 2005 show at Irving Plaza (the first time I saw them).

Still, this was an enjoyable evening from a band who more than 30 years on have something to say and can still deliver a great show.

You can see the setlist here.

Openers Hollerado were, frankly, a complete mismatch for both the legendary headliners and the first band, Philadelphia’s own Moon Women. Hollerado’s mediocre, frankly boring Weezer-like power-pop just didn’t stand up to the driving post-punk of Moon Women, who also memorably opened for Buzzcocks last year at the Trocadero (see my review here). My wife says that Moon Women reminded her of Echo and the Bunnymen while I caught the influence of early U2 and Magazine, whom Moon Women has covered, along with the aforementioned Bunnymen. Either way, it’s really good stuff and I need to find out if they have any recordings.