Me on Gang of Four's Return the Gift. Out-takes from the piece later this week.
As eerie as the record itself has been seeing the ads on VH1 for Go4's VH1-Classic-sponsored tour of America. Eerier still, the Gang appearing on one of those Vh1-Classic interview-segments-interspersed-between-lotsavideos programmes, just like they were Glenn Tilbrook or Joe Jackson or XTC or any of those almost-but-not-quiters from that era. When they finally showed a G04 video, though, it was unfortunately one from the Hard era, when they were trying to be Heaven 17: images of them looking uncomfortable and unconvincing in a nightclub.
Eeriest of all was seeing Go4 play a few weeks ago at the Hard Rock Cafe, a CMJ-affiliated event. What a ghastly place: a garish mausoleum of retro, framed pictures of Janis and Jimi and Jerry (Garcia, that is) on the walls. Then the Gang stepped onstage to stake their claim on history as the sternest band ever. No opening pleasantries or "hello New York" for them! Andy Gill's perfected this sort of pursed-lip Alan Rickmansworth pout-scowl; Jon King's developed this odd stage manner of dashing about and then halting with a peevish, harried look in his eyes, like a teacher dealing with an out of control class and on the edge of flipping his lid; Hugo Burnham just stares into the middle distance with this grim dead-eyed look mixing down-to-business and disdain. Only Dave Allen acts it up with stage moves that are the tiniest bit rock'n'roll. The severity thing is Go4's claim to greatness, which makes it weird to see all the fans grooving ecstatically to lyrics like "sometimes I'm thinking that I love you/but I know it's only lust" and "your kiss so sweet/your sweat so sour". G04 were good, as they were at Irving Plaza earlier in the year, but there was something ultimately kinda disconcertingly dead about the whole thing. Partly the venue; partly the whole retro anachronesis syndrome as discussed in my Slate piece. But also it became clear there's a sonic deficiency: he's perfectly fine on record (then and now, with Return), but live Burnham's drumming doesn't add anything to the sound, any push or thrust. The dynamism in the sound comes entirely from Allen's bass and especially the jaggedness of Gills' guitar. Those two are the rhythm section in Gang of Four.
Also check out the October issue of Frieze for my piece on Ghostbox. Somewhere down the line I'll probably put the raw material for the piece--interviews with Julian House and Jim Jupp--up here.