Gang of Four – Paradise Rock Club, 2/7/2011

February 8, 2011

Last night, Ruth and I, along with our friend Terry, went to see the Gang of Four at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.  It’s been a little more than 29 years since the first time I saw the band, when they played the Bradford Ballroom back in 1982.  That first show was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them since then.

Ruth and I get there in time for the opening act and we staked out a great spot, up against the barrier in front of the left side of the stage.  Good thing we had the barrier to lean on, as I don’t think my back could take standing up for three hours any more.

The opening act was a band from Montreal called Hollerado.  I enjoyed their set, enough to look  into getting their album after the show.  Then, after a 45 minute break, the Gang of Four took the stage.  For this tour, Jon King and Andy Gill are joined by Thomas McNeice on bass and Mark Heaney on drums.  They were two of the younger people in the club.

The set list mixed a number of songs from the new album in with some of the more jagged old favorites.  For example, they did “Anthrax”, but not “I Love a Man In Uniform”.  Like every Gang of Four show, the music was loud with moments of piercing feedback.  My ears are still ringing today.  I’ve got a nice set of earplugs I bought especially for shows like this.  Someday, I’m going to have to start remembering to bring them to the concert.

Like most shows I go to these days, the crowd skewed toward an older generation, which is strange because I haven’t aged a bit.  A mix of old and not-so-old fans moshed mildly in the middle of the crowd.  The energy in the pit picked up during “To Hell with Poverty” and in a blast from the past we were treated to the bouncers tossing a man out after an altercation.  He was yelling “He hit me first!” as the bouncers dragged him past us.  Odd how the bouncers never get the right guy.

One big change from the ’80s were the number of people recording the show with their phones.  I took some pictures with my iPhone.  It doesn’t do especially well in low-light conditions.  You miss some details, like the safety glass spraying the bouncer when King smashed the pizza oven during “He’d Send in the Army”.

Click to see the photo album
Gang of Four – Paradise 2/7/2011

The phone does a much better job with videos.  Here’s “Not Great Men”:

and “We Live As We Dream, Alone”:

The band’s original drummer, Hugo Burnham, doesn’t tour with the band any more, but since he lives in nearby Gloucester he dropped by to sit in on “Natural’s Not In It”:

and “Damaged Goods”.  At the end of “Damaged Goods”, King brought both drummers out on stage to the cheers of the audience:

They always play “Damaged Goods”, but they don’t bring the same frentic energy to the song as they used to. The last few times I’ve been to shows, the song has seemed half a beat slow.

I suspect they’re just tired of it after 30 years.

Even after all the time that’s passed, and with many fewer chemicals coursing through my brain, Gang of Four shows are at least 85% of what they were at their peak.  The sound isn’t as fresh and exciting anymore.  They’ve been playing for a long time, and I’ve been listening just as long, both to them and to all the other bands that took their cues from “Entertainment!”. But the echoes are still strong.  The Gang of Four are just as jagged and edgy as ever, but in a strange way, they’ve become comforting too.

REM – Comcast Center, 6/13/2008

June 14, 2008

REM has come quite a long way from the small club days where Michael Stipe would sing while huddled over the microphone with his back to the audience:

REM at Comcast Center

REM again with the Comcast Center

The pictures don’t do justice to the experience. There was live video mixed with canned images, fractured and moving about the digital scrim. It was fascinating!

The Mountain Goats

March 31, 2008

Ruth and I went to see The Mountain Goats at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on March 14th. The MFA theater was an appropriate venue, plain and understated. It’s mostly different shades of beige and off-white, with a bare wooden floor in front as the stage. There’s no adornment anywhere. The room isn’t flashy, and neither is The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.

I went to the show not quite sure what I was going to see. I had a few early Mountain Goats albums, mostly collections of songs that were originally released using a variety of formats and record labels, making them difficult to find. I wasn’t sure if the music’s lo-fi, geeky character was an affectation or a true reflection of Darnielle’s personality.

That was cleared up pretty quickly. John (it seems unnecessary to be more formal) appeared to be just as quirky as his records. He doesn’t walk when he moves across the state. It’s more of a prance, as he carries himself with his weight forward on his toes while he bounces around. When he’s talking between songs, his voice comes out with an odd cadence. Every word is carefully selected and put out there tentatively, ready to be pulled back if it meets with disapproval.

But John is a lucky geek. He’s displayed his quirks in public, and he’s found an audience that appreciates them. You can see how happy he is to bask in that acceptance as he plays.

These links will bring you to videos recorded at the show, posted by the Boston Phoenix. They’re free, so don’t complain about the ads:

Ain’t Living Long Like This

Sign of the Crow

Heretic Pride

John played most of the show with a drummer and a bass player, though there was a solo section in the middle. His band mates are talented musicians who fill in spaces around John’s performance without changing the essence of The Mountain Goats music.

The day after the show, I went out and bought two more Mountain Goats albums, excellent examples of where John comes from and where he is now. “All Hail West Texas” was recorded using John’s original process, where it’s mostly John and his guitar singing and playing into a portable boombox. By the time this album was made, the boombox was on its last legs. The noises it adds to the music are readily audible, acting almost as an additional instrument.

“Heretic Pride” is the new album. The songs are conventionally recorded and produced. It’s a significant change, but the album is still recognizably a Mountain Goats album. It could be a reflection of John’s increased confidence as his audience has grown, or it could just be that he can afford to work in a decent studio now. Either way, I’m glad that John continues to put together his vibrant little pictures of life.


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