By DONNA BALANCIA — Bands these days. Why keep the name if there’s only one guy left?
Calling a band by its years-ago name — even if most of the players are gone — appears to be a common practice. Maybe they do it for the money or to keep the fans. But in most cases the band’s name is the same, but the integrity of the music is all but abandoned. Or going through the motions.
When the fans come out for a band they love and have always wanted to see, only to find there are new musicians in the group, it can be risky all the way around. There are some bands that should take a hard look at why they tour under the same name, but with a completely different sound and look.
Gang Of Four isn’t one of those. Gang Of Four has a new cast of characters from the days of its youth, but surprisingly, it’s a great change in lineup. Maybe founder Andy Gill’s presence is enough to satisfy the hard-core GO4 fans as he truly retains his trademark looks and moves. And frankly, the purists probably haven’t really had a chance to complain over the years anyway, as the lineup in GO4 has changed pretty often.
But the core is still the music. And the message and the integrity of Gang Of Four’s music comes through loud and clear. GANG OF FOUR EAST COAST TOUR DATES
Gill has done a fantastic job in schooling “the new guys” in how to keep the same sound but simultaneously strike out in a new direction.
The latest incarnation of the 1980s-era “post-punk” troupe shows boundless energy. The compelling moves of bassist Thomas McNeice and vocalist John Sterry, mixed with Jonny Finnegan’s drumming is a rewarding experience that left a recent LA audience at the Echoplex with its collective mouths open and calling for encores.
In a music world where more and more bands have fewer and fewer original members, it’s to be commended that GO4 doesn’t rely on the nostalgia factor to win over audiences. Sterry is a fun front man whose accent had more than one of the ladies in the audience swooning. He brings a smirky aloofness to his performance and he seems very much in the moment singing everything from the reliable standards “Not Great Men,” “Damaged Goods,” and “At Home He’s a Tourist,” as well as tunes off What Happens Next, “Stranded,” and “Isle of Dogs.”
The band last played LA at the El Rey — with Alison Mosshart, who is featured on two of the tracks on What Happens Next (“Broken Talk,” “England’s In My Bones”} — and despite the robust performance held here as recent as only last spring, the Echoplex show last week still drew a good crowd.
The crowd was kept engaged not only by the strong vocals and movements of Sterry, but the compelling boundless moves of McNeice who covered lots of stage while swinging his dreads and hefting his bass in sweeping motions.
Gill is the center presence of stability in the group, and plays a crucial role when less is more in terms of keeping a band’s brand in tact. Gang Of Four shows how it’s done. The band gets tighter with every show and the players seem more confident and comfortable in their roles.
With the “return” of many of the bands today, it’s good to see that some of them actually have what it takes to hold their appeal and to build on that to capture a younger audience.
But really, in the end, it doesn’t matter what the name of a band may be. It should be about the music and the performance. The guys named Andy, Thomas, Jonny and Sterry nailed it. After all, they’re the Gang Of Four.