Saturday 21 June 2008

Gang of Four / Tom Tom Club - Royal Festival Hall

Gang of Four Photo: Matej Grgić

Back again to the Festival Hall for some more blasts from the past courtesy of Massive Attack’s Meltdown.

There are two acts on this evening, both of whom dabble in their different ways in the dancier end of the punk/ new wave spectrum of the early Eighties. Each have their adherents here tonight, but as on Wednesday, I suspect that there are very few people who are here for both.

First of all we get the Tom Tom Club, a band that have always been overshadowed by Talking Heads, or rather by David Byrne’s polymath solo career. Not that Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz give a hoot.

The Tom Tom’s may closely resemble a bunch of teachers having a jolly time in music class, but what they lack in prowess, they make up for in sheer good spirits. Tina is chatty in a new blue dress and sister Vicki has a prodigious pair of dancers pins, which she wields to good effect.

The band play the same, slightly ponderous, halting funk that was always their stock in trade. It may lack the genuine bounce of Tackhead, but it shows that new kids on the block like Vampire Weekend a) didn’t invent this stuff and b) can’t hold a candle to the oldsters.

The Tom Tom Club only really had two decent songs, ‘Genius of Love’, and ‘Wordy Rappinghood’, both of which get extended outings tonight. And these still sound fresh and fine. The other material this evening is forgettable at best, and I will gloss over a version of Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’ which is very not good indeed.

The band are a light hearted, easy start to the evening. I doubt that they are particularly bothered these days, and just perform for the fun of it. I’m happy to indulge them.

Gang of Four on the other hand, are back with a vengeance. Jon King and Andy Gill may be the only two originals left, but they have a new single and an album ready to go.

Tonight, they are joined by Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, a tiny but authoritative figure, who strides around the stage, trying, often vainly, to keep out of the way of King, who is almost out of control this evening.

As might be expected, Gang of Four’s set is based substantially around songs from their debut ‘Entertainment’ album. It is good to see these songs played live, with the fire and passion that they deserve, rectifying the awful production values of that record.

Jon King is a man possessed tonight, flailing, arm waving and in a move peculiar to him and no other front man I have ever seen, repeatedly locking his hands on his knees and bouncing around the stage like a gorilla. It is a punishing performance, and at several points he physically collapses at a song’s end. This is not done for effect- at one point Dorsey scampers forward and calls for assistance from off stage, convinced that King has done himself a serious mischief.

Andy Gill is more dignified, content to stand centre stage and discharge metallic chords from his guitar. Even he can’t entirely resist a bit of theatricality, and after a protracted opening sequence to ‘Anthrax’ he hurls his instrument across the stage.

Meanwhile, King performs his recent live party piece, the systematic destruction of a microwave oven with a baseball bat. Shards of plastic and metal fly all over the place, and the barefoot Dorsey decamps to the far side of the stage while the debris is swept up.

The crowd (surprisingly young) lap all this up, and stand through out. The set ends with a triumphant ‘Damaged Goods’, and not the song that they are probably best known for, ‘I Found That Essence Rare’. Whether this omission was a result of time constraints or just plain orneryness is of no import. Tonight, Gang of Four showed that an old tiger is still a tiger, and they are not ready for extinction just yet.


Anonymous said...

Any fears that the Go4 would be reduced given that only the two front men remain were largely abated by the sheer energy and physicality of King and Gill. Some of the original rhythm section's muscularity was missed but Dorsey is an assured enough bassist to compensate.

King is currently one of the most bizarre front men around, like a demonic Lembit Opik, pushing himself to the limits of physicality. Gill is utterly mesmerising, one of the most thrilling figures in the history of live rock, guitar held like a weapon as he careens across the stage or stands stage front staring at the audience, shards of noise almost physically tangible.

The set is rammed with classics - there are at least four songs from 'Solid Gold' - but it's the three from the debut ep that especially stand out tonight esp. a thrilling 'Love Like Anthrax'.

In their heyday Go4 were the best live act around. Little has changed to affect that judgement. Some are insane but they're in charge.

Anonymous said...

fantastic review.

so gutted i couldn't make the gig. a legendary band.

anyone know when they're playing in the uk next?

Wyldman said...

I believe Go4 are playing the Offset Festival in Hainault at the end of August.