The discovery, only days ago, that Gang of Four will play Trees Wednesday night sent me down the Gang of Four rabbit hole -- a semi-regular occurrence, usually without provocation. Out came the 20-track 2005 reissue of 1977's 12-song Entertainment!, a Top Ten-er on many mid-40s-and-up rock critics' all-time lists, alongside, oh, Exile on Main Street, Blood on the Tracks, Revolver, Pet Sounds, The Clash's first, The Band's second, 12 Songs, Otis Blue, you get it. Out came Kevin J.H. Dettmar's book about the record, done for the late, lamented 33 1/3 series of love letters to great records. After that came the singles, EPs, compilations, boxed sets, histories-of.
I asked George Gimarc yesterday if he had any Gang of Four episodes of The Rock and Roll Alternative handy. It took him about 42 seconds to send this: drummer Hugo Burnham's visit to The Zoo studios for a half-hour sitdown in advance of the band's November 5, 1980, show at the Hot Klub. (Set list anyone?) Which might be the coolest sentence I will ever type.
(Adds George, who of course has the contract for that Hot Klub appearance: "The group was paid a $1,500 guarantee for the show in that tiny club, which is like $4,000 today. Tickets were $7 and a capacity of 400 in the club. That's a sell-out at $2,800, so a rather small margin." Math.)
It serves as the perfect introduction to the band for newcomers, and as a welcome refresher for us fetishists -- George respectful and knowledgeable, Burnham thoughtful and gracious. "Please remind people that I was only 23 at the time and ask them what they were doing at that age when faced with their heroes," says George, as always too hard on his younger self. "This is rather odd to hear with all this experience behind me now. "
Off the bat, they get right to the foursome's influences and tastes. Not much was agreed on. "We disagree quite violently sometimes" when it comes to music, Hugo says, ticking off only a handful of shared favorites: the Talking Heads, Parliament-Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, The Band, "not much else."
Then, to the history. Then, the music (a handful of essentials are played) and the making of that music. Burnham spills the secrets: That's vocalist Jon King hitting a dishwasher tray with a mic-stand at the beginning of "He'd Send in the army," if you didn't already know.
But, keep in mind: Burnham and King and bassist Dave Allen won't be among the four members of Gang of Four in Deep Ellum Wednesday. It's just guitarist Andy Gill and three replacements, a far cry from the reunited originals who burned down the Gypsy Tea Room a decade ago. Here's pro-shot video of the Gang of One Guy Who's An Original and Three Who Are Not recorded just last night in Chicago. Not quite the same. Far from, in fact. Still, Gill's guitar remains one of rock's most vital, visceral noisemakers. Every note's a foot-long needle. No wonder he's St. Vincent's favorite.
We've posted a lot from George's bottomless archives in recent months. This is a personal favorite, a Top Ten-er.