When Andy Gill, guitarist and cofounder of the seminal post-punk band Gang of Four, was very young, he wanted to be a drummer, he said in a chat with Annie Clark of St. Vincent recently for the Talkhouse podcast.
“I do think of things in grooves and rhythms and pulses, and I very much think in those terms. I don’t really think in terms of grandiose melodic constructions,” Gill said when discussing his approach to playing guitar.
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In performance, Gill uses his guitar much like he uses his voice: He’s direct and sparing when communicating with it. At the 9:30 Club Tuesday night, Gill brought the latest incarnation of Gang of Four on tour to play the very new album What Happens Next, and in so doing demonstrated the power in his approach to songcraft.
First, it has to be said, this is a different incarnation of Gang of Four, in which Gill is the only original member remaining. Vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry has taken over for Jon King — and as a result it’s a different show. But Gill gave the band’s songs a remarkable level of consistency, which the audience warmly embraced. The two-thirds full room approached the new lineup cautiously but applauded very enthusiastically by the end of the performance.
Gill prowls the stage like a vet, and he adds a touch of class to the proceedings, even with his preferred beverage of chilled white wine sitting on the platform next to the drummer’s kit.
The band opens with new song “Where the Nightingale Sings” from the new album, which just came out last week. It seems a little more mystic perhaps and a little more goth than a typical Gang of Four song, but it fits the younger vocalist Gaoler as he warms to the set. The audience likes the song but the proof of this new lineup’s talent has yet to come.
Two songs later, Gang of Four performs “I Parade Myself,” a narcissistic ode to renewal. And of course Gaoler demonstrates he isn’t King, who would have flaunted a bit more in the performance of such a number. But Gaoler’s sweetly husky voice carries you through the song and it seems completely natural. Nothing in the transition takes you out of the frame, and indeed Gaoler, Gill and bassist Thomas McNeice present a unified force as they stand united at the front edge of the stage instead of surrendering the song to one individual.
The true test for the new lineup comes quickly as Gang of Four tackle “Paralyzed” from the band’s classic second album, Solid Gold. And here the band really starts to hit its stride as Gill makes best use of all of his talents, lending his voice on a spoken word backing vocal. If that feels right, it only gets better when the band hits the even more well-regarded “Damaged Goods,” and it’s kinda wonderful. The audience fully embraces the new vocalist as he spits out the lyrics, “Your kiss so sweet/your sweat so sour.”
All four band members pull their weight in “Do As I Say” from 2011’s Content. The band start facing drummer Jonny Finnegan, the newest member of the lineup as he thunders away. Gaoler provides a mournful refrain and he and Gill sing well together. But Finnegan really carries the song as he marches through interludes then punctuates his rolls with a clash of the cymbals.
Gang of Four get one of their biggest cheers from the audience with “At Home He’s a Tourist.” Gill and company do well with the spikey anthem, and keep the audience’s attention with an encores that includes “I Love a Man in Uniform,” which seems even more oddly kitschy with a new singer, and “Return the Gift,” another welcome classic delivered well.
The crowd definitely enjoyed the show, but that’s not to say everyone was pleased. At least a few disgruntled fans left the show before it ended. And occasionally Gill and Gaoler where a little physically uncoordinated on stage, walking through each other’s wires.
But if the proof is in the reception by your audience, this audience left the show very satisfied. The new Gang of Four hit Boston Friday, New York Saturday, dash into Canada, and then continue across the United States throughout March. If you have any inclination at all to check them out, you’re likely to find that your confidence in Andy Gill is not at all misplaced.