Wire, in case you don't know are one of the greatest bands to emerge from the punk era, from the sound of a crowd ignoring them on the Live at the Roxy album through their first three essential albums Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 and on the sound of REM copying them on Document and Elastica basing a career on them to such an extent that they had to pay them royalties. They have reformed and broken up a few times but have always produced interesting and often exceptional work. They are currently touring to support their new, and very strong album Red Barked Tree.
There's something almost sacramental about the rock 'gig', an informal mass for unbelievers. The danger with that of course, is that there is usually a lot of ritual and little content. And even the ritual is often a bloated parody.
There is something redolent of ascetic religious practice about Wire. They have always had a commitment to renewal, their work changing from album to album and their back catalogue largely eliminated from their setlist. I love the story of them doing a tour of the US in the eighties with a Wire cover band (Three Girl Rhumba) supporting them and doing the songs the audience came to hear.
The support act, Edsel played to a sparse enough crowd and much of their set was spoiled by appalling sound but they were interesting and I will give them more of a listen some day.
Fortunately the sound problems only briefly crossed into Wire's set and the sound was good where I was (near the front). The venue was quite full by the time Wire ascended the stage. The band were clearly committed right from the start and the three original members look great. (Once when reduced to a three piece they carried on as WIR - this lineup could be called IRE) The sound is much more muscular than the current record. The two guitars, bass and drums play interlocking grooves overlaid by ringing guitar chords. It feels like a synthesis of the many sounds that Wire have explored over the years. And they dip into many points of their career. Songs I recognised and remember include Two People in a Room, Drill and Pink Flag and quite a few from Red Barked Tree.
The definite highlight from the new album was Please Take, which was introduced by Graham Lewis with the aside that although Wire didn't do requests they were going to play this song and dedicate it to the World Bank. Apt!
Please take your knife
Out of my back!
And, when you do
Please don't twist it!
The highlight for me was probably Drill which was magnificently realised and showcased Robert Gotobed's motorik drumming. Both Graham Lewis and Colin Newman were in good voice and I was struck again by how much power there is in Newman's polite, absolutely precise phrasing.
There were two encores and the rest of the crowd seemed to be as pleased as I felt. My daughter even threatened to borrow some of my cd's although she was very nonplussed by the largely static nature of this crowd of aging punks. Personally I was a little nonplussed by the hairstyle of the guest guitarist.
Great night. Look forward to seeing them when they come again in 2043! If you can't see them live you can visit them online.