Gang of Four/John & Jehn/Wild Palms

Heaven, London - 2 February 2011

"Good music doesn't age"

[Gang of Four live][Gang of Four live] It's my wife who is the big Gang of Four fan, so the first time I actually saw these old schoolers live was only when Massive Attack curated the Meltdown Festival in 2008. Though hardly attuned to them, the live performance was bursting with energy and proved to be great fun so I was well disposed for a second sampling when they turned up at Heaven, the UK's most famous gay nightspot in the heart of London's West End, nestling literally underneath the arches below Charing Cross station. Given Gang of Four's spanning of punk and new wave, I was quite curious to see the two support acts 'cause they could have come from any direction.

First to step up were Wild Palms. Good name, but would they squander it? Actually, they weren't too bad at all. Influences of new wave and indie came together surprisingly well. The second song that had three band members taking to some form of drumming provided some standout moments both visually and sonically. The rhythm guitar stirred memories of early Cure. I wavered slightly between quite keen on them then closer to indifferent, but as their half-hour set progressed I found my ears tuning in and I began to get what they were up to. Come the end of their set I was quite well disposed to Wild Palms and even if I had no intention of following them after tonight, I was happy to wish them well in their endeavors.

Next were John & Jehn. I found out afterwards they are a couple from France (singing in English). With hindsight that makes total sense of their slightly moody art pop. They instantly projected confidence and a style and stage presence that Wild Palms had yet to develop, and although coming across as more polished (even professional) than Wild Palms, my interest wained before their thirty minutes of fame were over; meaning that of the two supporting roles Wild Palms, despite languishing at the foot of the bill, were the better of the two.

If my wife and I were not here tonight, we might well have been over at the Scala in King's Cross as, in one of those very unfortunate pieces of clashing bookings, contemporaries Wire were doing their thing. Which may have explained why this wasn't a sell out in spite of the relatively compact environs. Not entirely sure why Gang of Four won out tonight but I was happy with the choice. Good music doesn't age and neither do Gang of Four. There may only be two original members remaining but the spirit from their formative years is well and truly alive. In comparison with the only other time I'd seen them, this was less chaotic but no less entertaining. The band (and therefore the music itself) was tighter here and the songs benefited as a result. 

Lead vocalist John King and guitarist Andy Gill make a great partnership. They share the stage, limelight, credit and vocals meaning that attention switches from one side of the stage to the next according to the requirements of the song being performed. The set was, to a near novice, a solid blend of the old and the new. Much of the new stuff taken from the band's latest album Content, released in January. And the sampling we got this evening included You'll Never Pay For The FarmA Fruit fly In The Beehive (the most mellow entry of the night) and the stompingly repetitive and jagged Do As I Say. In doing so they roughed up a bit the edges of the recorded versions meaning they sat more naturally within the rest of the set. Single (Love Like) Anthrax was still impacting, whilst I Love A Man In A Uniform had a different resonance deep in the belly of the UK's gay HQ. You never really know what might happen next at a Gang of Four gig and the best bit is neither to the band members. That creates a terrific frisson that cannot be manufactured. Which, in an age of precision manufactured pop, is just what the music world needs.  7/10

Rob Dyer