New York’s Webster Hall was a room full of mirrors – reflections bouncing from present to past and back – during the February 8th show by the British agit-rock band Gang of Four. Early in the set, singer Jon King recalled being there when the venue was called the Ritz – three decades ago. There was also the eerily identical resonance of the rallying choruses and aggro-dance relief in the band’s reignitions of the 1979 single “At Home He’s a Tourist” and the metallic ’81 goosestep “To Hell With Poverty”: howling broadsides against unchecked greed, suffocating conservatism and narcotic pop culture. In King’s chanted provocations – from the blunt helplessness of “Not Great Men” on Gang of Four’s master argument, 1979’s Entertainment!, to the furious entrapment in “Do as I Say” from the group’s new album, Content (Yep Roc) – little had changed, except for the worse.
In the music, little has changed, because it is unnecessary. Gang Of Four reconvened, with all founding members, in 2005. The group is now King and guitarist Andy Gill with a new rhythm section, and they are in something better than vintage form, playing the original modernism with an infecting exhilaration. Gill spit his clipped riffs and spiked-treble chords through a chorus-pedal effect that made everything sound like it was coming through rattling curtains of broken glass, while King worked the length of the stage in tribal go-go spasms, to the meaty martial tensions of bassist Thomas McNiece and drummer Mark Heaney. Content is that rare thing from a reunited band – a credible new studio release – and the songs from that record stood up fine against the still-commanding anxieties in “Damaged Goods” and “Love Like Anthrax,” illustrated in the latter by Gill’s atonal cannonfire, which he triggered by kicking his Strat across the floor. For Gang of Four, the great leap forward – through noise to justice – is back on.