Monday, May 30, 2005

I've been troubled by the widespread suppression of dissent that has become so commonplace under the current President. It's bad enough when it is carried out by the government, but its even worse when nongovernmental bodies do the same out of fear of backlash. I'm a big enough Nine Inch Nails fan to have seen them about 10 times, to still cling to my well-worn Pretty Hate Machine tour t-shirt and to buy their new albums the week of release. Until now, I've never known anything about Trent's political opinions, so obviously he's not one to really wear them on his sleeve. But MTV was so alarmed that they would have an image of George W. Bush as a backdrop while playing "The Hand That Feeds," that NIN decided to pull out of the MTV awards rather than ditch the photo.

The full statement is on the band's official web site, and I was surprised that actually covered this in their news section.  MTV's official statement in response says they were "uncomfortable with their performance being built around a partisan political statement." As political statements go, it's a rather vague one. Therefore, the situation is all that more disturbing, that MTV is afraid of a single artist who merely hints at disagreeing with the current administration.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Concert Review: Gang of Four, Radio 4, Metro, Chicago, Wednesday, May 11

If a decade or two ago I had ever seen New Order, the Pixies or Wire put on as great a show as Gang of Four did on Wednesday night, I would have had second thoughts about skipping their recent reunion tours. While those other bands certainly recorded a bunch of great songs over the years, there was little point in going to their concerts. For all their charisma and stage presence, one could be just as entertained putting all their CDs on shuffle and spending the night on the sofa.

Not so Gang of Four. Dave Allen, Andy Gill and John King prowled, pranced and pounced on the stage, even if Hugo Burnham was a tad detached behind his drum kit. It was hard to decide what was best about "To Hell with Poverty," that is was instantly recognizable from the first searing guitar chord or that the lyrics were still so relevant in the current era of Republican callousness.

Dave Allen and I were both laid off by the same company when the dot com bubble burst. While I'm glad that, like me, he other skills to fall back on, I can't help but be jealous that his new job is lots cooler than mine as a librarian, even if I do get to spend the taxpayers' money on Gang of Four CDs.

Even if Radio 4 haven't carved a more unique identity than "Gang of Four admirers with more complex percussion," they have written some good songs in their own right. I finally figured out why they haven't connected as a live act. Especially after seeing the hyperactive Gang of Four, I realized that part of the problem is that, with all their gear, Radio 4 have nowhere to move around on stage even if they wanted to. But the bigger problem is simply the sound mix. The bass is cranked so high it drowns out all the other instruments, particularly the scratchy guitar.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Concert Recommendation: Gang of Four with Radio 4, May 11 & 12 at the Metro

Before there was Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads and a myriad of other early-'80s angular punk revival bands, there was the original angular punk band, Gang of Four. Their songs are now underground classics, epitomized by scratching guitars and throbbing basslines: "I Found That Essence Rare," "I Love a Man in a Uniform," "Damaged Goods," etc. Their influence is all over the charts these days. And the original line-up has reunited to bask in the warranted glory.

Admittedly, their first reunion tour in 1991 for Mall, which only included original members Andy Gill and Jon King, didn't make much of an impression on me. But I wasn't as familiar with their back catalog then.  More importantly, the rhythm section of drummer Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen is with them now, and Allen is not only a distinctive player but also has considerable stage presence. So this tour bodes better than those for, say Wire or New Order, influential bands who don't provide much worth watching in concert.

Radio 4, a Brooklyn band who take lots of inspiration from Gang of Four but haven't gotten nearly the level of publicity as their like-sounding peers, are opening. I've seen them twice and found them somehow lacking. As much as I love their edgy, driving recordings, they haven't connected yet live. But I view it as a "yet," holding out hope that they'll find a way to make their shows more invigorating.

Gang of Four play with Radio 4 at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773.549.0203 at 7:30 on Wednesday, May 11 and Thursday, May 12.