Photos by Josh Braybrook
There’s nothing like a good dosage of radical ‘70s punk to warm you up on a chilly Melbourne night.
After support acts Plovers and Baby 8 graced the Croxton Bandroom with some local Melburnian punk, punters were left to wait for almost an hour for the main act to take the stage. The increasingly impatient audience mostly comprised of middle-aged men and women; original fans were eager to see the riotous heroes that sound-tracked their ‘70s and ‘80s.
Formed in 1977 in Leeds, Gang of Four are one of the most influential bands to ever exist. Their uniquely funky and combative brand of punk was fuelled by their radical politics and observations about the world at the time. Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and R.E.M. are just some of the many artists who pledge their appreciation for Gang of Four and note the influence they had on multiple genres of music. The band’s ratty and contorted guitar riffs combined with thumping bass lines and politically-charged lyrics made them the pioneers of post-punk.
Touring for the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Entertainment, only one original member remains in the band – lead guitarist and vocalist Andy Gill. After what seemed like forever, Gill finally marched onto the centre of the stage, and threw his hands into the air to mark his arrival – like a resurrected punk god that the crowd were there to worship.
Without saying a word, the band jumped straight into ‘Love Like Anthrax’. The thumping, driving drumbeat brought a tonne of energy into the crowd. Gill’s distorted guitar sent waves of white noise and feedback through the room and lead vocalist John Sterry twisted and contorted his body to the sharp, punk-funk riffs.
The band played Entertainment in its entirety, but not in its original order. It was ‘Not Great Men’ that really got the crowd moving, and the older audience members were (albeit awkwardly) head-banging and shouting out the lyrics that they’d remembered for years.
Gill took over the vocals on ‘Paralysed’, showing the audience that forty years on, he’s still got it. “I’m sorry if I reduced you to tears, I’m a little moist-eyed myself,” Gill announced. Yes you did, Andy, but only tears of happiness.
Fans bathed in Gill’s shredding guitar on ‘Natural’s Not in It’ and ‘Damaged Goods’ had the entire audience shouting out the song lyrics and bouncing around to the pulsing beat. ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ wrapped up their first set, to which Gill proclaimed: “Apparently that was Entertainment?”.
After a short break, the band continued onto a new set which comprised of songs from their multiple other albums. Unfortunately, the energy in the room had suddenly fizzled, and tracks ‘Why Theory?’, ‘Isle of Dogs’ and ‘I Parade Myself’ felt long and slightly tired. But Sterry revived the crowd with ‘He’d Send in the Army’, where he spent almost the entire song smashing the living shit out of a microwave on stage with a wooden bat. Brilliant.
They ended the show on a high with ‘To Hell With Poverty’, a song which frankly discusses the mundanity of working-class life and resentment of class inequality. Everyone screamed the final track’s ‘ah-ah-ah-ow’s’ and screamed to the resounding lyrics. “In this land right now / Some are insane, and they’re in charge / To hell with poverty, we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.”
Despite the lack of original band members, the gig felt incredibly authentic. Gill carried a self-assured, no-nonsense attitude with him throughout the whole night and only addressed the audience when needed; there was no forced conversation or awkwardness, he led the show with ease and mastery. There was also nothing spectacular about the show’s lighting or the band members’ attire. What shone out most was the music; its distinctiveness, its groove and of course, its political relevance.
Highlight: Lead vocalist John Sterry violently smashing up a microwave on stage throughout ‘He’d Send in the Army’. For those after some one-of-a-kind memorabilia, the demolished microwave could then be purchased for exactly $55 after the show.
Lowlight: The crowd’s energy dissipated after their first set, setting off an air of lethargy throughout some of their songs.
Crowd favourite: ‘Damaged Goods’.