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.

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