Photo by Yuki Fujiwara
O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire / 6th October 2023
9:31 pm. The audience brimmed with anticipation for the legendary English post-punk band Gang of Four to come on stage. As soon as frontman Jon King started swaying and dancing to the opening track 'Return the Gift,' the audience immediately went ballistic and crowded into the front of the stage. It’s worth mentioning that this performance was the first time the band returned to the UK since the lead guitarist Andy Gill passed away in 2020. Gill's untimely death inspired original members of the band to reconnect and tour together; the band comprised King (vocals, drums) and Hugo Burnham (drummer), as well as Sara Lee (bassist), who was in the band during the early 1980s. Also on board with this incendiary mix was David Pajo (guitarist) from iconic punk band Slint.
Despite King turning 68 this year and taking a nine year hiatus from the band, his presence energetically carried the performance and made it clear that he had not aged. With words that kill, King sardonically criticised everyday consumerism and capitalism whilst dancing around the stage. By pointing his finger at every section of the venue with intimidating eyes wide open, King ensured that the experience and message reached every audience member there; communication occurred in which a difference made a difference.
But, the gig is not to be misunderstood as King’s one-man show. What makes Gang of Four distinct from other post-punk outfits is their funk-based instruments and rhythms. King’s dynamic swaying and dancing was fueled by the band's groovy and consistent instruments, which compelled the audience. The power of the instrumentals was most evident when King would sometimes leave the stage and let the band do their thing, bringing each member’s unique contribution to the forefront. Although Pajo would generally take on a funk-strumming role, he would come to the front at times to blast edgy and tearing guitar noises. Lee's bass and Burnham's drum, on the other hand, did not get their spotlight as much, but firmly led the band with a steady yet exhilarating groove. There was solid chemistry and trust between band members, ensuring that the audience were immersed in the performance.
The highlight of the show was when the microwave was brought to the stage during the track 'Paralysed'. With a baseball bat in his hand, King started smashing the microwave in time with the track's rhythm; so the microwave became an instrument. Gill sings; "They say our world is built on endeavor. That every man is for himself. Wealth is for the one that wants it./ Paradise, if you can earn it/ (...) My ambitions come to nothing./ What I wanted now just seems a waste of time." The track's social commentary revolves around how capitalism appeals to meritocracy and is predicated by inequality, so endeavour would not be paid. King let out his bottled-up irritation and anger as he smashed the microwave, which in itself could be seen as an efficient and ubiquitous symbol of capitalist society. By the end of the track, the microwave was completely destroyed and its debris scattered everywhere.
The latter part of the setlist mostly consisted of tracks from Entertainment!, their 1979 debut album. With the band playing punk classics from this definitive album, like ‘At Home He's a Tourist’, ‘Natural's Not In It’, and ‘I Found That Essence Rare’; the mosh pit took over the whole of the venue’s standing area. I noticed that many people moshing were in their 50s and 60s; it was a thrilling scene to see people, who probably grew up with the band, reliving their youth. The final track of the night ‘Damaged Goods’ was the moment when everyone got together and vented their emotions toward a rigged society in a cathartic release.
The frontman's stage presence, the band propulsive performance, and the symbolic spectacle... Gang of Four's gig was vibrant with rebellion and energy on every count. 2024 marks the 45th anniversary of their debut album, but the band's gang-like energy never withers.
Edited by Akane Hayashi, Music Editor