2nd September 2016
Gang of Four’s Entertainment! Still stands as one of the definitive post-punk albums, capturing the zeitgeist of the late 70s. ‘Left’ and ‘socialist’ weren’t terms spat derisively by the media. The early years of Thatcher’s dismantlement of the country in the pursuit of the neoliberalist dream was already finding many disenfranchised and angry, with musicians articulating the sentiments of a generation in voicing dissent and dissatisfaction. Sound familiar?
I’ve been listening to Gang of Four since I was in my teens: too young to appreciate them in their day (I was born in1975), I was hooked a good decade before Franz Ferdinand and others started namedropping them and their status as one of the most important bands of the era. This isn’t any kind of hip gloat – not least of all because it would be a pretty shit one if it was. But my experience of the band live until earlier this year was limited to a few shitty VHS recordings, and the not so shitty various artists compilation VHS from circa 1984 that I picked up at a car boot in the early 90s.
So finally seeing them play live in 2016, given that the current lineup only features one original member could have been a disappointment on a monumental scale. But it wasn’t. the current lineup not only sounds great, but still has that vital sense of tension, of danger, that was always the band’s trademark.
‘Live… in the Moment’ captures this perfectly, and is released in two different forms: During a year spent touring the world, the band recorded two of the best, namely their sold-out show at New York’s Irving Plaza (which will be available as a DVD or download) and their penultimate show of 2015, at London’s Islington Assembly Hall, which will be available as an audio CD, double coloured vinyl album and download. The DVD will be packaged with the CD. Both, it has to be said, are excellent.
As a live recording, the quality is good, but it’s not excessively crisp or polished, and doesn’t scream heavy EQing, mixing, overdubbing. No, this is an honest, real live album that captures the intensity and immediacy of being in a room with a band playing live at high volume. If sounds and feels like a live album: as it should: any act who sound exactly the same live as in the studio may be musically accomplished, but fails to make the live ‘experience’ an actual experience. What matters most is that the separation between the sinewy, choppy guitar lines and elastic, funk-infused stop/start bass grooves is spot on.
Similarly, the concert visuals, whole shot from a number of cameras, is straight-ahead: dark, murky, primarily from a lower, audience vantage point. Budget? Maybe, although I’d prefer to watch something that replicates the actual experience of the live show, rather than some ponced-up, glossy fixed-up representation. My only criticism of the footage lies not with the footage itself – I can handle the wobbles and slightly amateurish hand-held pans – but the editing: the cuts are simply too fast, and the zooms on fretboards, etc., simply too… zoomy. With multiple angles to choose from, they haven’t always picked the best. Still, it’s watchable enough in a way fits with the rough ‘n’ ready, ‘as it was’ approach. Moreover, it sits with the band’s general ethos: this is no major-label, big-money production and no corporate exec’s coining it at the expense of hard-working artists.
The track listing draws from across their albums with the exception of Mall, although no-one’s going to be disappointed to see that Entertainment! Is well-represented, with ‘Love Like Anthrax’, ‘Damaged Goods’, ‘At Home He’s a Tourist’, ‘History’s Not Made by Great Men’ and ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ all featuring. The DVD also features ‘Return the Gift’, which doesn’t appear on the CD, as well as non-CD cut ‘I Love a Man in a Uniform’. They all sound great, spiky and urgent, ‘To Hell With Poverty’ as pertinent now as 38 years ago. Irrespective of their influence, Live… In the Moment shows that Gang of Four are very much a going concern, and a band who aren’t only relevant after all this time, but a cracking live act.