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Gang of Four return the gift

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What happens when a musically innovative band is name-checked and cited as an influence so often that the mention of their name seemingly neuters the powerful work that made them crucial in the first place?

Leeds, England group Gang of Four, appearing at the Cat's Cradle Thursday, Oct. 6, were never famous in the traditional sense. In the post-punk revival though, their name appears in newcomers' record reviews and press releases more often than President Bush makes a gaffe. The band--guitarist Andy Gill, singer Jon King, bassist Dave Allen, and drummer Hugo Burnham--reunited for well-received shows last year, and now have a reissue of their first record Entertainment, with a new record out next month.

Gang of Four were absorbed by so many young musicians that the wave of bands flying their flag--The Rapture, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, to name top sellers--have replicated into a small, toothless army. As Sleater Kinney's Carrie Brownstein once commented in Spin, the slew of copycats sounded like Gang of Four "...if Gang of Four sucked."

The originators' return expands beyond sentimentality, as a gleaming light amongst grayed-out has-been reunions. The Indy talked to a few Triangle musicians and fans about Gang of Four's meaning to them. David Cantwell (Cantwell Gomez and Jordan, Whole World Laughing, Analogue) says: "I don't think I've ever played with someone who didn't love them, so their sound must have crept in somewhere. But there are some specific qualities I've admired: Hugo Burnham is a truly great drummer. I [like to] think the thing I take from him is that he is presented with songs [i.e. melodies] that are very crooked--'angular' as rock critics like to say--and plays in a way that makes the songs 'swing' without destroying their bizarre syncopations. And, certainly when I play bass, I am trying to ape Allen's sound: wiry yet muscular, yet leaving space at crucial moments--not afraid to be funky."

In some cases, an influence can be more subtle, as Tim Ross (drummer for now-defunct Joby's Opinion, editor of Tuba Frenzy and local DJ) notes. "'Chinese Jet Pilot' on the first Joby's Opinion seven-inch is, uh, shall we say, 'somewhat influenced by' Gang of Four's 'Ether.' We were all big fans but it was more subconscious than intentional, and I don't think we realized the riff similarities until it was too late."

The band's sound still synchronizes with bodies in motion around here too, Ross says. "My DJ sets have typically been very hip hop-centric, but I played 'Damaged Goods' last Thursday at Wetlands and it kept the dance floor going pretty strong."

Gang of Four play at the Cat's Cradle Thursday, Oct. 6 with Morningwood and Men, Women and Children. The show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $20.

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