When: Fri., March 13, 7 p.m. 2015
The countless bands that developed in the radical wake of the Pop Group have probably blunted the weirdness and intensity of the Bristol outfit’s releases during its initial five-year run. Between 1977 and 1981, the band wholly embraced the freedom of punk through a collision of noise, dub, overdriven funk, and unrepentantly leftist plaints from singer Mark Stewart. When I first listened to the Pop Group’s two recent archival releases—the 1980 oddities collection We Are Time and a new second anthology of similar rarities called Cabinet of Curiosities (both issued last fall on Freaks R Us)—they both felt a tad dated because the Pop Group’s agitprop achievements had been so thoroughly co-opted on songs like the Clash’s 1980 track “Magnificent Seven.” The wiry, dissonant guitar of Gareth Sager, the furiously rude bass lines of Simon Underwood, and the desperate hectoring of Stewart were key influences on the Minutemen and the Big Boys—not to mention an indirect, if unfortunate, force on every godforsaken practitioner of so-called punk-funk. At its best, the early Pop Group material can still rip off my head. “Forces of Oppression,” the opener from the band’s 1980 album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (Rough Trade), segues from a sample of an Indonesian monkey chant into a blast of chicken-scratch guitar, driving funk drums, and charging, distorted bass that could cut through steel—and that’s all before Stewart begins squawking with righteous indignation. Following the Pop Group’s dissolution, Stewart launched a solo career with various Adrian Sherwood-produced groups, and Underwood played in Pigbag. However, as is the way of the world these days, the band of old-timers reunited in 2010 and just last month released a new album called Citizen Zombie (Freaks R Us). The quartet tries to pick up where it left off, but inspiration and originality were left out this time, and the record can’t help but feel like a weak cash-in. I sure hope the band’s first ever Chicago performance adds up to more. —Peter Margasak Tonight is part one of Levitation Chicago.