Yes, every other band on alternative rock radio these days sounds like Gang of Four -- some quite convincingly so -- but here's what most of the groups never quite get right: Their music tends to be so pinched with nostalgic reverence that it never finds its own brand of the twitchy, ragged effervescence pioneered by the British quartet.
Considering that Gang of Four's original foursome -- singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bassist Dave Allen, and drummer Hugo Burnham -- hadn't played together since the early 1980s, few would have expected the band itself to resurrect that power when it reunited earlier this year. But if the packed show at Avalon Monday night was any indication, decades apart haven't eroded this band's punchy mix of rock guitar and new-wave dance beats.
With the members all settled into middle age, they're a long way from their late-1970s beginnings when they first married postpunk rage and politically radical lyrics. Yet, there's still a burnished take-no-mess swagger, which was apparent from the moment the scowling Gill took the stage.
He and his bandmates opened with a dynamic ''Return the Gift." King, the long-limbed frontman, sang, whipped his arms above his head in a spastic dance, and leaped about like a deranged frog. Occasionally, he crawled on the floor, even doing a backwards somersault. On ''He'd Send in the Army," he even turned what resembled a battered microwave into a percussion instrument with whacks from an aluminum bat.
From ''At Home He's a Tourist" to ''To Hell With Poverty," through two encores featuring ''Damaged Goods" and ''I Found That Essence Rare," the music was textured and intense, often achieving a kind of disco dissonance, especially when Gill was punishing his guitar. At the same time, the band also seemed to relish the moment -- Allen even took photos of the crowd with a digital camera. And what a crowd it was as they danced, sang along, even indulged in a bit of crowd-surfing. From middle-aged men with comb-overs to college kids with pierced eyebrows, from graybeards to some who looked barely old enough to shave, this was truly an all-ages show.
Appropriately, New York's Radio 4, disciples of Gang of Four, began the evening with an enjoyable 35-minute set, featuring the song ''Dance to the Underground."