Gang of Four’s reputation as one of the most influential and intelligent bands of the post-punk era is well-established in the rock annals. But it’s not so renowned that the British quartet managed to sell-out First Avenue on Saturday night, nor did it draw any of the younger indie-rock fans listening to today’s many Go4-like bands – hipsters who weren’t alive when the group’s landmark “Entertainment!” album came out in 1979. The ratio of gray hair in the three-quarters-full audience was equal to or greater than what it was on stage, where AARP-age founders Jon King and Andy Gill rocked alongside their younger (and resoundingly mighty) rhythm section. In other words, Saturday’s show could have been a tired, old, clichéd display of anger-spewing punk nostalgia, maybe the worst kind of nostalgia in rock.
Instead, the 90-minute concert – in support of the band’s first new album in 16 years – busted through any age barriers with both a youthful energy and an intense musicality that still cuts a sharp edge. Not only did King and Gill put art-rockers half their age to shame with their feisty energy and their ageless, cocky coolness, but the crowd was as responsive and spunky as any other First Ave show of late. A couple miniature mosh pits even broke out during “To Hell With Poverty” and the finale “Damaged Goods,” something even the almighty TV on the Radio doesn’t usually muster when it plays the club.
The Gangsters opened with “You’ll Never Pay for the Farm,” the single from the new “Content” album, which was strong enough to light up the crowd. They then proceeded to set the place ablaze with the “Entertainment!” classics “Not Great Men” and “Ether,” both perfectly nailes. Highlights after that included the wicked slow jam “Paralysed,” which drew a cheer just from drummer Mark Heaney’s opening countdown, and “Anthrax,” which started out with King staring down the crowd as he twisted and caressed his guitar into a whir of feedback.
Both the encores were also ecstatic, although the sound problems that plagued “Damaged Goods” may have explained why “I Love a Man in Uniform” was trimmed off the set list. Ah well, the band will for sure have to play it when it returns to First Ave, which hopefully won’t be another decade from now (I personally couldn’t find anyone who attended the band’s mid-‘00s gig at the Quest but plenty who saw them at First Ave in the '90s). Whenever it returns, hopefully some of you indie kids who are so into innovative bands will have picked up the buzz on this one by then.
You'll Never Pay for the Farm / Not Great Men / Ether / I Parade Myself / Paralysed / A Fruitfly in the Beehive / Anthrax / We Live as We Dream, Alone / To Hell with Poverty / Return the Gift ENCORE 1: Do As I Say / Natural's Not in It ENCORE 2: Damaged Goods