When British post-punk architects Gang of Four reunited last winter, people wondered if the band, renowned for its political consciousness and tautly constructed tunes, would rock with the same fury. After all, the original lineup had not played together since 1981.
Last night in Chicago -- in the first of two shows at the Metro -- the band dispelled any skepticism with a powerful hour-and-fifteen-minute blast through material from their first two albums, 1979's Entertainment! and 1981's Solid Gold. The band's tour launched with a celebrated performance at Coachella earlier this month, and will wrap in Philadelphia on May 21st.
Despite the gray hair, the band has not lost any of its dynamism, or cohesion, as a live unit. Jon King, a tall, commanding frontman, prowled the stage, channeling righteous rage and indignation on songs such as "Return the Gift" and "Damaged Goods," with its jerky, ever-danceable groove. During "He'd Send in the Army," King actually bashed a microwave with a baseball bat in perfect time to drummer Hugo Burnham's pounding backbeat. Guitarist Andy Gill and bassist Dave Allen were equally mobile, crisscrossing the stage and adding textured rhythms to the band's sound. On "Anthrax," Gill took over vocal duties, delivering the song's refrain with chilling indifference.
In addition to the current tour, on August 30th Gang of Four will issue a double-disc set of re-recorded material, including favorites "To Hell With Poverty" and "Damaged Goods." The album will also include remixes of tracks by artists such as the Dandy Warhols, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Futureheads, who draw obvious inspiration from their sound.
Rolling Stone caught up with bassist Dave Allen at Coachella.
How does it feel to be playing live again?
It's amazing that people want to see us. But the really cool part is that it's a whole new audience -- very few people were in the audience in Britain from way back. It was just all these new kids who were like, "We've heard all about you, but you've never played." Well, that's because they hadn't been born yet.
We're firing on all cylinders. And in a strange way, the first time around we weren't firing on all cylinders every night because we were partying like fuck: a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs. So some nights we were good but not amazing, and I think now we're a little bit more mature and wiser about not getting ripped before the show.
Do you feel any pressure to live up to a certain ideal?
There's certainly a pressure to be good, and to let the fans -- new and old -- have a really good time. But beyond that, I feel very confident that we're not going to screw it up. We're just not. We're getting along really well. The unit is actually more cohesive now than it was all those years ago.
Do you think you might write new material?
I never say never. People asked us to come back, and we agreed that we thought it would be a good idea. But we kept it very limited in terms of what that would mean. And what that meant at first was rehearsing like hell and seeing if we're any good. We're just kind of, "If we're good, we'll keep going. If people want us, we'll keep going." But there's been no idea of new material.
What do you think of new bands, like the Futureheads and Bloc Party, and their connection to your sound?
I think "respect." If writers want to say these bands are good -- and they're great -- but they're borrowing from Gang of Four, I mean, that's cool. I suppose I'm a little pissed that some of these bands are just borrowing freely from us. It's a difficult equation for me: Do I come down on any one band's side? Because there's tons of them! I think our integrity, our credibility, has remained intact. And if that's attached to these new bands, that's fine.
I think the live Gang of Four is the big differentiator, and, of course, the lyrics. There's nothing remotely close to us when it comes to being socially, politically and lyrically aggressive pains in the ass. Jon King was so amazing at writing those lyrics that hit the nail on the head every time about your everyday life, and I'm not hearing that in any of these new bands.
The big theme at this year's Coachella was the reunion of bands from the late Seventies and early Eighties. You were playing on a bill with Bauhaus and New Order. How do you ensure that your set is not simply a nostalgia trip?
I'm very anti-nostalgia. I'm not going to wallow in that. But I'd say from the response to Gang of Four and New Order tonight, the fans were out, weren't they? After twenty-two years of never playing together onstage, Gang of Four has the place packed. And they're cheering every song. Bauhaus, Gang of Four and New Order -- we all have the right to perform at Coachella because of our legacy. And it's up to the fans what they take home. I think we're well beyond the nostalgia phase. Besides, rock music has become very, very, very, very boring. I mean, you've got bands like Bloc Party and the Futureheads: They're really good, but they're not going to save rock & roll.