J u n e   2 0 0 5

Aural Report

Gang of Four at the Crystal Ballroom
It's still entertainment!
by Kurt Dahlke

e can always learn. Learn to fight, for instance. Fight against premature aging – something I learn on an early May night from Gang of Four.

That's entertainment! The landmark 1979 debut still carries that weight.

I learn to lead with the drink, too.

Lead with the drink held high and treat your body like a swinging door. Words to live by, learned at Portland's Crystal Ballroom.

So lately I've put myself in an unearned, premature La-Z-Boy and now I'm fighting, leading with the drink and observing all the other aging punks and art-rockers, older even than l'il ol' me – aging punks and art-rockers out to connect with the stuff that launched them from schoolboy pants onto the stage of life.

It's stuff that should launch you from your premature La-Z-Boy, should you be cranking back on that recline-lever too often.

We struggle to find meaning in work and the day to day. Meanwhile lucky sods, like the GO4 crew – and seemingly suddenly this time – find themselves in a well-considered yet vicious time warp where they can stomp all over the young bucks and show them what was real before the "exploding plastic inevitable," if you will.

Look no further than the opening act, New York's Radio 4, to see how it's not done. No mistake, Radio 4 bounces out catchy little rhythmic numbers that force you to grin. Or maybe you're grinning because of brainless lyric anthems such as the one that characterizes Radio 4 as "the party crashers" or puts a call out to "all enthusiasts."

In this case it seems to be enthusiasm toward blending up styles and elements hand picked from the dusty record collections of those here to see the Gang. Radio 4 is like the Justice League of bands. Need a hero who can play synth? Check. Congas? Check. Lanky dude on guitar? Check.

What you get is like a Disneyland map of post-punk and new wave, complete with stagey, insincere posturing. It's nearly letter-perfect but slavish and unoriginal, resulting in a Petri-dish mixture with large doses of Allen, Burnham, Gill and King's preserved sweat.

How does Portland represent in this mix then?

Solid Gold: The 1981 follow up matched the debut's iconoclastic bent.

With and through the good graces of PDX transplant Dave Allen, the imminently "Portland" band Menomena rips the reins from Radio 4 with quiet, earnest authority, slamming Neanderthal-funk drums against deep-throat saxophone swing and lots more.

The trio is unafraid to use dynamics that might suffer in the hands of fools, or invite an audience to walk all over the songs. But in the case of Menomena the songs don't need any help and even the parts where everything gets real quiet actually invite you to listen to the lyrics instead of yakking on your cell phone.

When's the last time you could understand lyrics – lyrics that you weren't already able to shout along to in a drunken frenzy – at a live show?

Multi-instrumentalists expertly punching out intricate, sometimes delicate, songs is one thing, but when those songs are catchy and tuneful without being obvious or facile – hey, what more can you ask? If this stuff wasn't so smart it would cover the world like kudzu.

So now it's time to bring on the boys from Leeds.

Gang of Four is to angular rock as Pythagoras is to geometry. Wooly mammoths having a disco party in the La Brea tar pits. Endless, once gob-smacked whitecaps churning up the Crystal's famous floating floor into a delirious rapture.

They prowl the stage like cagey lynxes, like cocaine-fueled silverback gorillas defending their turf – they've earned every inch of it, and they prove it.

They even get this atrophied body spazzing about like an arthritic skeleton on a hot greased griddle.

Allen's in fighting form, abandoning himself to popping bass lines that approach funk at an 87-degree angle, even adopting stage-front rock-star postures for the adoring punters.

Hugo Burnham's indigenous rhythms are crisp as ever (or at least as ever as my vinyl intimates) even if he, more than the others, looks to have entered middle-age reality.

Andy Gill inhabits the role of rock decadence best: floppy peroxide locks and shirt open to the navel – syncopated jabbing jagged shards of guitar lock with the other pieces to paint a perfect picture. It's 1980 again and Labour isn't working, as the quarter-century-old zeitgeist in Jolly Olde England is resurrected.

A hearty sampling of tunes from Solid Gold and Entertainment! advances forth the message of arch disenchantment, one that, oddly, hasn't aged a bit.

In-the-know wage slaves righteously crow along with Jon King as he snidely begs "please send me evenings and weekends." The anti-G8-crew pogos to the bashing of the carcass of a microwave.

Songs of the Free: The 1982 album features "I Love a Man in a Uniform."

So who is out there right now telling us we don't need to take the extruded polyvinyl shite-pills that the global corporate banks want to feed us?

Well right now, again, it's Gang of Four.

For all those in attendance, I hope some kind of message gets through, a message to reject the plastic false reality corporate global domination provides. A message to work for some kind of change – from within or without – that will move us forward.

I, for one, need to lead with the drink more often, to weave through the crowds on a mission of personal liberation.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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