Pete Shelley, lead singer and songwriter for England's Buzzcocks, once said he was influenced by Beethoven and the Beatles. Those might be odd reference points for one of the first and best punk bands. Last night at the Ontario Theater, though, Shelley's strong melodies and modern-romance lyrics revealed some debt to the Beatles. The Beethovan was harder to detect.
Despite a horrible sound system, Shelley's high whiny voice was effective in putting over some of the best songs in punkdom. Even with the bands pop leanings and catchy choruses, the guitar interplay of Shelley and Stege Diggle was as direct and as rhythmically compulsive as punk rock should be. From the opening notes of "I Don't Mind" the band had the audience up and going for the evening.
The Gang of Four, the London band that opened the show, had one leaden foot stuck in the punk tradition and the other dangling in concept art. The band tried to fuse disparate musical elements -- ominous and militia-like, drums, dissonant and choppy fragments, and toneless chanted vocals -- into something new and compelling.
At their best, in "At Home He's a Tourist," they were riveting. At their worst, they sounded like a Metroliner derailing in Union Station. Mostly they were perplexing.