Concert Reviews

Post-Punk Pioneers Gang of Four and the Faint at the Gothic

While it may not be historic, it felt significant that two pioneers of disco/dub beat-driven post-punk, one from the original wave and one from its 1990s revival, shared the stage at the Gothic Theatre on Saturday night.

When Gang of Four got going in 1977, punk was splintering in multiple, often fascinating directions. Gang of Four aimed to be as aggressive and angled against the ills of society as punk, but to inject its music with danceable rhythms conducive to more than a monorhythmic pogo. In that way, Gang of Four infused punk with a pulse rooted in African musical ideas. Later, in the mid-'90s, while the beige ilk of the Dave Matthews Band and Hootie & the Blowfish dominated dorm-room stereos, the Faint was forming in Omaha. The Faint cultivated a sound that married disco, dub and '80s synth pop with a contagious, youthful enthusiasm. There was no inherent scene for the music those bands made.

Fast-forward several years, and Gang of Four became the template for dance punk, though few other bands possessed the same level of sharp social critique. The Faint went from what some considered an eccentric, experimental throwback band to one of the earliest of the so-called post-punk revival bands and purveyors of vintage synth sounds reimagined for modern pop sensibilities.

Opening act Pictureplane is a pioneer in his own right, making various types of music including noise and inspired by hip-hop. He hit his stride when he started to develop his own style of glitch pop with 2008's Turquoise Trail, and by 2009's Dark Rift, he'd given name to the now-large movement of "witch house." Now Pictureplane is evolving in new directions. Though his set was infused with industrial sounds and rhythms, he retains his ability to induce good moods and inner tranquility with his songs, like a psychic palate cleanser.

Gang of Four's only original member is guitarist/vocalist Andy Gill, and his fascinating contrast of stoic demeanor and smoldering intensity commanded the group. John “Gaoler” Sterry looked like a younger Jon King, the band's original singer; he struck the right poses and filled King's role with confidence. Drummer Jonny Finnegan and bassist Thomas McNeice were the driving engine of an irresistible rhythm machine that allowed Gaoler to roam about the stage like an acrobat cradled in their masterful low end. Gill's own instrument was half guitar and half barely controlled noisemaker. Gang of Four has a reputation for very angular music, but those angles are jagged and splintered even when they are under control. That quality gave the show on stage a feel like something would break into chaos at any moment.

The Faint seemed to be in high spirits and laying out its best material reaching back to 1999's Blank Wave Arcade and “Worked Up So Sexual.” But mostly the set comprised  tracks from Danse Macabre, Wet From Birth and Doom Abuse. Todd Fink was jumping alongside Michael "Dapose" Dappen with no apparent premeditation. Draped in a richly colorful light show, the Faint unleashed an effusive dance party from the stage. Fink referred to Gang of Four as "legendary" during a break between songs, but his own band seemed legendary as well.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.