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Gang Of Four
John And Jehn
Wild Palms

Heaven, London
Wednesday February 2 2011

Well, here we are, seeing off the twenty-first century at a rate of knots, and the Gang Of Four are back with a new album and a tour to promote it. Honestly, you'd think it was 1979 or something.

In a way it's hard to know why the Gang Of Four feel the need to give us more. Only a few years back the band's first - and, many would contend, best - line-up reconvened to tour the early songs and, not incidentally, reclaim the post-Wild Palmspunk-agit-funk territory from the host of new acts that had sprung up in the meantime, claiming Gang Of Four influences. Having forcibly reminded everyone who did it first, and who could still do it best, the original Gangsters went their separate ways again. Point made, job done.

But now the Gang is back in town. New album, new tour - and a new line-up, in which founding members Jon King (guitar) and Andy Gill (vocals) are joined by Thomas McNeice on bass and Mark Heaney on drums. It seems that the Gang Of Four reckon their work here is not yet done after all.

What we're looking at right now is our opening band, Wild Palms - who perhaps have a few of those Gang Of Four influences stashed away in their back pockets, for there's a purposeful angularity and stripped-down intensity about their sound that can't fail to remind us of another band not a million miles from here.

And yet, at the same time, the Palms' sound is a rich and full racket, two guitars and keyboards packing the corners, the drums nailing the lid down. The vocals are sternly declamatory, the lyrics gnomic. Yes, you can hazard guesses at Wild Palms' influences, but the way they kick their schtick around hints at plenty of original ideas in there, too. It's clear where Wild Palms are coming from, but they're going to a place that's all their own.

I'm never quite sure how to pronouce John and Jehn - well, not the Jehn part of their name, anyway. I'm not even sure if John and Jehn is the name of the whole band, or just the two principal people. What I can tell you, however, is that they're really rather captivating, and something of a wild card element on tonight's bill, for there are no discernable Gang Of Four influences in their music that I can hear. Folks, it can be done!

Instead, John And Jehn are an off-kilter pop group in which the spikily glacial vocals of Jehn - a Nico for a new generation - pirouette insouciantly around John's punk rock shapeshifting and more astringent vocal interjections. They swap instruments, jointly and severally playing bass, guitar, keyboards and melodica, while the songs tumble out like gifts from an overturned lucky dip barrel. Sometimes the songs are whimsical, understated things; at other times they scrabble and squabble like cats in a cardboard box. We'll chalk John And Jehn up as a rather neat discovery, I think. And we'll be finding out more about this band. Not least how to pronounce their name.

John And Jehn

And now, the Gang Of Four. At once it's apparent that the band have brought all their old attitude to the party. Grey-suited and purposeful, Jon King swings his guitar like it's spitting bullets. Andy Gill, shirt flapping, is manic and expansive, gesticulating grandly as he paces the stage. Thomas NcNeice and Mark Heany lock horns and lock down the groove.

This line-up of the Gang Of Four might be regarded as more of a Gang-Of-Two-Plus-Two affair by fans of the original band, but the show speaks for itself: they've got the caustic crash and clatter of the classic sound down flat. The band seem energised, up for it, burning from both ends. If there are any doubters in the audience tonight, the Gang Of Four's strategy seems to be to wallop them into submission with the sheer force of firepower.

Gang Of FourAnd yet it's obvious that it's the old songs that get the biggest cheers, while the handful new songs in the set - from the new album, Content - are given a polite, but rather more restrained, hearing.

'You'll Never Pay For The Farm' opens things up, the performance equivalent of extending a tin hat on the end of a rifle above the edge of the trench, to see if anyone shoots at it. Nobody does, but it's when the classics start coming that the joint really starts jumping.

'Natural's Not In It' is a staccato shout-fest, the guitar skewering the beat. 'Anthrax' sees Gill and King stand rigidly at opposite sides of the stage, rapping out the two-part overlap of the vocal - it's not a duet, it's more like a duel - as the bass grinds away.

And, of course, 'To Hell With Poverty' is a thing of mighty, massive magnificence, a genuine anthem that tonight snarls and shrieks and burns with entirely undiminished fire.

Trouble is, the undeniable impact of the old songs does tend to show the new songs in a less than flattering light. When the band throws in 'A Fruit Fly In The Beehive' - a low key number from the new album, which is fairly low key throughout, it must be said - the atmosphere takes a noticeable dive. Sure, the audience probably doesn't know the newies yet, so a slightly cautious reaction is natural. But unfamiliarity doesn't tell the whole story. The uncomfortable fact is that among the new songs the Gang Of Four don't have anything with the immediacy, the impact, or the killer presence of a 'Poverty' or an 'Anthrax' or an 'I Love A Man In A Uniform' - another classic which is very effectively kicked around tonight.

'I Party All The Time' is probably the nearest thing to a bona-fide anthem among the new stuff. It goes down well, with its jagged riff and accusing, shouty chorus - "If there's a revolution then you'll stay at home" - and fine display of dad dancing by Jon King, but you can almost see the thought bubbles rising out of people's heads: "Let's have another old one!"

Fortunately, there are more old ones still to come. As has become traditional on recent Gang Of Four tours, Jon King beats a microwave oven into submission during 'He'd Send In The Army' (he Gang Of Fourmust've destroyed an entire landfill site's worth by now), while the big finish comes courtesy of 'Damaged Goods', an appropriate set-closer ("Goodbye...goodbye...goodbye") - a final burst of energy from a band that certainly doesn't lack the goods in that department.

Tonight the Gang Of Four prove what we already know: they pack all the old power. Their punch and polemic is undiminished. As a live band they effortlessly wipe the floor with all-comers. But here comes the awkward thought: all this relies on songs written two or even three decades ago. If I were the Gang Of Four, I'd be a bit worried about that.

 

 

Gang Of Four:
Website | MySpace | Facebook

John And Jehn:
Website | MySpace | Facebook

Wild Palms:
Website | MySpace | Facebook

For more photos from this gig,
find the Gang Of Four by name here.

Find Gang Of Four and John And Jehn album reviews here.

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