The Gang of Four's all here
U.K. quartet reunites with its influential '80s rhythms intact
Greg Kot, Tribune music critic
Published April 29, 2005
Alternative rock isn't moving forward, but back to 1981. Where would bands
such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Futureheads, the Bravery,
Interpol, the Killers and the Rapture be without the influence of key
post-punk bands such as New Order, Public Image Ltd., the Cure and Gang of
The fidgety punk-funk rhythms and jagged guitar incisions of Gang of Four
are as ubiquitous today as the Bo Diddley shave-and-a-haircut beat was to
previous generations of rock musicians. Little wonder the original U.K.
quartet of guitarist Andy Gill, singer Jon King, bassist Dave Allen and
drummer Hugo Burnham saw an opportunity to play together for the first time
since '81. They'll follow a gig this weekend at the Coachella Valley Music
and Arts Festival in California with a three-week North American tour,
including concerts May 11-12 at Metro. Also due is a double-disc Gang of
Four album, which will include new recordings of the band's '80s music and
remixes by G-4 acolytes Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and Futureheads.
Gill says he's "ambivalent" about the influence his band has had on today's
music, but also cites it as an impetus for the reunion. "You can't
copyright a style, you can only copyright songs," he says.
It's also testament to the quartet's music. Few debuts were perfectly
realized as Gang of Four's "Entertainment" in 1980, where Gill's guitar and
King's acerbic sing-speak vocals cut through the caffeinated new-wave
"At no point did any of us think that we'd be getting people dancing like
in a club," Gill says. "But we wanted this very rhythmically oriented music
that wasn't just in the classic Western tradition of being all about melody
and harmonic structure. We wanted to take the beats apart and make our own:
hi-hat [cymbals] on one beat, followed by a triplet on the snare. We'd
assemble it bit by bit like that, and it would start out awkward, then
slowly start to make sense. It would build up. We didn't take stock beats
off the shelf--give me No. 38!--that would be anathema to us. The whole
point is to create stuff, so let's create. By default it ended up being
Gill is one of the unsung heroes of rock guitar, perhaps because he was a
rhythmic player as much as a soloist. But he manipulated sound as
adventurously as he attacked individual notes--a post-punk version of Jimi
Hendrix. He had only a handful of lessons and was playing regularly in
bands by the time he was 13. During an early North American tour he was on
a bill with Adrian Belew, then at the height of his prowess with gigs in
King Crimson and Talking Heads. "Adrian comes backstage with a friend, and
his friend is going on and on about how great my guitar playing was," King
says. "He's saying, `Boy, you sure gave Adrian a run for his money.' And
I'm embarrassed, because Adrian is standing right there. And then Adrian
walks over and says, `You know what we should both be thankful for, don't
you?' And I'm completely at a loss. Then he says, `Jimi's dead.'"
The notion that Gang of Four was on to something new in 1981 was
indisputable--Hendrix really was dead, and this was the new wave charging
through. But what can a reunion without new songs promise besides nostalgia?
"It's a bit like a time warp," Gill says. "We're playing with exactly the
same intensity, the same kind of feeling that we had in 1981. There are
some subtle differences, but you'd expect that. I think the thing that
makes it powerful is the absolute relevancy of both the lyrics and the kind
of manifesto behind it. The musical approach is so of the minute. It's
risky. If we fail, we're going to fall on our asses in a big way. We'd be
the laughingstock of the town, and rightly so. But we had a meeting in
London to see if we're all in agreement, we worked hard in rehearsals, and
we played some blindingly good shows in the U.K. in January. So step one
was just to see how we gelled with each other after all these years. The
answer? Better than any of us expected. Now it's time to play some shows,
and after that? I wouldn't rule out doing some new stuff. To my amazement,
we're a band again, and it feels very satisfying."
Gang of Four
When: 7:30 p.m. May 10-11
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.
Price: $23.50; 773-549-4140
Greg Kot cohosts "Sound Opinions" at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on WXRT-FM 93.1.