Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saturday Review: Quartet Gets Defensive after Critics Find Too Many False Notes in Material

It was obvious from the Gang of Four’s first words in their “Fight to the Death Tour” that critics would pan this latest boxed set of anti-rail standards.

The quartet’s packaging is catchy enough. Big headlines, big graphics and 1800-word essays occupy lots of newspaper space, and the easily impressed might fall for it, but what stands out in the quartet’s material is that it’s lifted almost unchanged from the ‘90s.

The Gang band’s makeup explains it. Vocalist Cliff Slater has been crooning the same tunes for decades and still fronts the group, but he’s backed this time by different musicians working hard to follow his lead – Ben Cayetano on rhythm guitar, Walter Heen on a quiet electric bass and Randall Roth on a muted drum set.

The Gang’s repertoire is still bombastic as ever, but playing it with ear-splitting shrillness can’t mask the lack of depth. Civil Beat was quick to bestow two  FALSE   Hammys in early reviews, and more from Civil Beat is highly anticipated.

Mayor Peter Carlisle weighed in soon after and blasted the group for its misleading lyrics and general performance. One Gang member defensively decried the mayor’s criticism, saying the two once had  performed on the same stage, as if that should matter. The guitarist even suggested the mayor and others who appreciate the predictable, steady and safe rhythm of elevated rail transit music would not dare to perform head-to-head with highway-loving Slater.

History shows otherwise: Rail conductor Wayne Yoshioka and Mr. Slater have indeed been paired in front of the same audience – most memorably at the City Council in July 2010 (you can see photographic evidence at this link). Mr. Yoshioka more than held his own and even managed to force Mr. Slater into playing a true and clear note for a change – his remarkable admission that Honolulu rail will help reduce future congestion.

Some critics say the tour’s running engagement really should be named the “We’ve Lost the War Tour” since the public already has soured on the Gang's music and supported rail in three scientific opinion surveys. Like other musicians with bad reviews, though, this band plays on and on and on, no matter how tired their tune.

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