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Gang of Four Week: Video Vault: The Elusive Lineup

Wrapping up our Gang of Four Week, in celebration of our forthcoming 33 1/3 title on Gang of Four’s Entertainment! by Kevin J. H. Dettmar, with a video vault that tries to reconcile the difficulty of assembling GoF in one place.

One of the great tragedies of post-punk history is that there’s very little performance footage of the original Gang of Four lineup. Even less if you’re hoping for the original Gang in its first iteration, rather than in the reunion tour version of 2005; less still if you want to see the original-original band playing the tracks from Entertainment!.

So I’ve made some compromises here. Much of that 1979–80 footage is pretty poor quality, but this live footage of the band doing “At Home He’s a Tourist,” from a 1980 New York City performance, is much better than most:

The minimalist fury of Andy’s playing; the way that the stage at times resembles the pit at a punk performance. There’s no way to replicate the ambiance precisely while sitting in front of a computer monitor—but to be in a room like this one, with all that angry energy on stage, was by turns exhilarating and terrifying.

This 1980 performance of “He’d Send in the Army” at London’s Rainbow Theatre, from the 1981 documentary Urgh! A Music War, is even cleaner—though the larger stage and venue make for a more dissipated stage energy. The song, though not available on an LP until Solid Gold (1981), appeared on the “Yellow” EP (1980) and was recorded in March of that year.

That’s a microwave oven that Jon is whacking with his stick. In the book, I mention briefly that Entertainment! was recorded in the same studio where Ian Dury had made New Boots and Panties!!; I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, though a fun one, that the band went to #1 in the UK with the single “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick.” One would have to imagine the microwave as singing the song for the joke to work….

What’s most striking to me about the clip is the incredible discipline of Andy’s playing—discipline that is very much being performed, played up. It’s there in his starched, high-collar shirt; it’s there in the way that he seemingly restrains his strumming hand from hitting all the notes it might like, at 1:25. There’s a menacing energy here, but it’s not anarchic. There is, to adopt the song’s own metaphorical frame, a military discipline to the playing.

Andy has said about the song that, “it goes between two chords—F-sharp and G, backwards and forwards between two notes, basically. It all makes sense live: ‘He’d Send in the Army’ live is fucking extraordinary, with the great gaping holes in it and the stops and starts, just the drama of it.”

“It’s Her Factory,” another Solid Gold track, had been recorded way back in March 1979, during the Entertainment! sessions, and also appeared on the “Yellow” EP. So it’s technically another non-Entertainment! track—but look at all you get: Hugo on lead vocals, Andy on drums … and Jon on harmonium! Hugo’s ad-lib—rather than the song’s “In a man’s world because they’re not men,” at 2:40 he sings “It’s a man’s man’s man’s man’s world”—delightfully brings the subtext front and center. New Year’s Day, 1981.

And then finally, for something completely different: “Not Great Men,” in a cover by an Indonesian gamelan ensemble. Given the band’s prodigious influence on the contemporary music scene, Gang of Four songs are covered relatively rarely. This transnational, transcultural, trans-instrumental cover suggests rather economically how well the rhythmic structures of the best Gang of Four songs work across various cultural divides. And gender: unless I’m misconstruing someone, the ensemble is all female. Hang in there—the performance proper doesn’t begin until 0:47.

Gang of Four’s Entertainment! is available for pre-order from Amazon and Bloomsbury.com, and will be available everywhere 33 1/3s are sold on April 24.

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