RADIO 4 LIVE
"Then the cod-reggae of Pipe Bombs, as well-intentioned as it seems, brings us back down again. A batch of new songs, while opening up our interest, fails to revive matters. Fortunately as the set progresses there's some crowd-pleasers in the form of 'Eyes Wide Open', with its innovative guitar licks and chugging bass line, and a triumphalist disco shuffle through their signature 'Dance to the Underground'. The encore consists of a rousing 'New Disco' before the crowd are packed off into the night air or the aftershow party, depending on what capacity you're there under."
Jake Purbright reviews Radio 4 live for 3AM.
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If you set yourself up as a post-punk disco-afflicted outfit then you're bound to invite the usual comparisons. If you name yourself after a PiL song (and hardly an obscure one at that), then they're bound to follow you around to the point whereby you contemplate some form of court injunction. Ladies, gentlemen and stalkers of the music press, welcome to the post-punk disco ensemble from New York that is Radio 4.
Only a year ago, the New York quintet were in London playing a packed-out Scala on the back of their second album (for many their debut, their first was a little-noticed affair recorded as a trio and without half the tunes) and with the music press vying for their attention (it's usually the other way around). On this occasion, they're playing a sold-out gig at East London's considerably smaller 93 Feet East, yet half of those in attendance are either friends of the band or music journalists on the guest list. The other half are the 'plus ones', presumably. Outside a young girl not wanting to ruin her make-up in the unseasonably bad London rain asks the bouncer where the queue for the guest list is -- honey, this is the queue for the guest list. There was no scallies with Manchester accents shouting "Spares, buy or sell…" either, which is unknown for a band of this stature. Yes, it's that sort of gig.
The post-punk musical environment at the point where the 1970s all too suddenly became the 1980s was fashioned around the dismissal of 1977 clichéd nihilism and the realisation that wider society had embraced the New Right as its own alternative to moribund social democracy. The whole British decline thesis was as evident in the work of Public Image Limited (think 'Socialist'), Wire and Joy Division as in any think tank pamphlet or academic study. What is surprising is how this template, which saw the likes of Gang of Four and A Certain Ratio catapulted back into fashion after two decades of absolute obscurity, was readily taken up by bands from New York (The Rapture, The Liars, Interpol and, quite obviously, Radio 4) a lot more suddenly than it was embraced here. Tonight is London's opportunity to embrace however and Radio 4 bring the Pop Group and Mission of Burma, not to mention Georgio Moroder, to the party alongside the usual influences, marking them out as something special and above the crowd. It's why I was there and you're reading this.
There is, of course, an album to promote and on this occasion it's their third, The Stealing of a Nation (the title referring to, a la Radiohead's All Hail to the Thief, the non-election of George W.Bush in 2000). Gotham! was the slick-produced affair that brought their brand of disco-fied punk funk to all our attention (if you cite their debut I'll know you're lying, OK?), it being laden with groove-intensive and angry rhythms that sounded as good on stage as on the CD player. The band open with 'Party Crashers' from their new album and it does come across as a diluted take on the Radio 4 franchise. The temptation is always there to deviate from a winning formula and it's less aggressive than we're used to. 'Start A Fire' and 'Save Your City' from Gotham! rescue the set, with percussion competing for avid attention against funk riffs on both counts. From indifference to having the audience in the palms of their hands in less than three songs, perhaps it's all part of the plan.
Then the cod-reggae of 'Pipe Bombs', as well-intentioned as it seems, brings us back down again. A batch of new songs, while opening up our interest, fail to revive matters. Fortunately as the set progresses there's some crowd-pleasers in the form of 'Eyes Wide Open', with its innovative guitar licks and chugging bass line, and a triumphalist disco shuffle through their signature 'Dance to the Underground'. The encore consists of a rousing 'New Disco' before the crowd are packed off into the night air or the aftershow party, depending on what capacity you're there under.
Some might view Radio 4's politics as a little off-the-peg, copying almost word for word the inclinations of the musical forbearers. Operating in a considerably altered world since the first post-punk era sees some of the sentiments a little unfocussed (get behind what 'Struggle' exactly?) and trite but their gospel takes into consideration unfashionable causes such as the fight against AIDS and commentary on world events. A band for our times.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jake Purbright lives in Shoreditch and is currently writing his first novel following stints at The Face and Sleaze Nation. He attended the Royal College of Art in London and has lived in New York and Thailand. He DJs with the Lottery-Funded Crack Whores.