SAN FRANCISCO — As Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill stood on the Chapel stage at the beginning of the band’s set Saturday night, he threw his guitar to the ground. Picking it up, he held it over his head before again throwing the guitar to the stage. He stepped on the guitar as the band launched into “Anthrax,” off its 1978 debut, Entertainment. Standing on the guitar and looking slightly disheveled, Gill smiled as he sang the lyrics, “Love will get you like a case of Anthrax, and that’s something I don’t want to catch.”
Saturday’s show marked the fifth date in the band’s month-long North American tour in support of forthcoming album Happy Now.
A roadie brought Gill another guitar as the guitarist sipped wine from a glass on top of his amplifier. Gill began coaxing long sinewy squeals of feedback from his guitar as the band started into “Where the Nightingale Sings,” from 2015’s What Happens Next. The band crackled with energy. Vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry whirled spastically around the stage.
“How are you all doing?” Gill asked the crowd while tuning up, three songs into the set. As the band laid down the heavy groove of “Not Great Men,” from Entertainment, Gill applied his patented razor-sharp guitar riffage. It was suddenly obvious how Gill’s guitar playing was inspired by British bands like Bauhaus and Wire, and how his blending of punk and funk laid the foundation for American bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Gaoler left the stage about a third of the way through the set so that Gill could deliver the spoken monologue to “Paralysed,” from 1981 album Solid Gold, including the line, “My ambitions come to nothing, what I wanted now just seems a waste of time.” If Gill was talking about himself, the sold-out room begged to differ.
The only original member of the band, Gill tended to post up in front of his pair of amplifiers for most of the show. The younger band members ricocheted around the cluttered stage while drummer, Tobias Humble pummeled his kit.
Gaoler returned for the the stinging guitar riffs of “I Parade Myself,” off the band’s 1995 album, Shrinkwrapped. Gill poured himself another glass of wine as his guitar shrieked and squealed atop Thomas McNeice’s 10-ton bass line as they started “What We All Want,” off Solid Gold. Eventually the whole band vamped over McNeice’s wicked bass playing.
Long-time fans immediately recognized the iconic opening chords for “Damaged Goods,” arguably the band’s biggest hit. The crowd bounced, danced and sang along to the song’s elegant simplicity.
Next, Gang of Four unleashed a blistering version of “Isle of Dogs,” from What Happens Next, before finishing out the set with some older numbers.
The band blazed through a harder rocking version of “I Love a Man in Uniform” than appears on 1982’s Songs of the Free. Gill and his bandmates finished up their set with two songs from Entertainment. The crowd exploded with kinetic energy at the bridge in “At Home He’s a Tourist,” and finished with “I Found That Essence Rare.”
A black cloth-covered box was then stationed on the stage and a microwave placed it. When the band returned for an encore, Gaoler carried a long metal pipe. He then proceeded to rain blows down upon the microwave as the band struck up “He’d Send in the Army,” from Solid Gold. The reverberating and echoing clanging of pole against microwave synced up perfectly with the song’s heavy groove. When the band finished, they shook fans’ hands before bowing and filing off stage.
The evening began with an opening set by San Francisco’s Kamikaze Palm Tree. The experimental trio consisted of a masked keyboardist and guitarist (Cole Berliner and Dylan Hadley) along with a singer-drummer who appeared to time warp directly out of the New Wave androgyny of the 1980s. The band’s music was strange and complex, at times sounding like Captain Beefheart covers performed by The Chipmunks, and at other times like math rock calculated on a melting abacus.