To the Brighton Kommedia last night to see Wire. Now minus Bruce Gilbert they were augmented by a good-looking young guitarist who resembled Michael Karoli from Can (Halleluhwah was playing while they set up). Colin Newman looks even more like a friendly geography teacher while Graham Lewis on bass remains menacing; Robert Grey (formerly Gotobed) kept up the trademark metronomic beat.
I’ve seen them a few times over the years, unfortunately not in their first 1977-79 incarnation, when they made their classic three lps that showed a staggering invention and musical progression compared to their peers. The first time I heard them on the radio – a track from Pink Flag – I could tell they were trying to so something much more interesting than a three chord thrash; they had atmosphere for a start. A gig at the Bloomsbury Theatre on 21 July 1985 was a triumphal return – they refused to play any old songs but fortunately the new stuff was strong. Support was provided by Michael Clarke doing a dance piece called The Shivering Man which certainly bemused a lot of the audience; I was a big fan of his at the time.
The most unusual concert was at the Barbican Flag:Burning, a collaboration with Jake and Dinos Chapman who screened fitness training videos behind them as they played Pink Flag in its entirety, an amusing conceit that got dull after it was used for the entire duration; the music was great, very precise. After a very long wait the second half was much stranger with each band member encased in a large box with a mesh front onto which various close-up images were projected – they played their latest record Send.
At Brighton there were a couple of new songs that sounded like old ones (at one point I thought they had started A Question of Degree, but they hadn’t). The new cd is promising – there’s a beautiful melodic song called Adapt and plenty of noise and belligerence. Newman’s psychedelic tendencies were not so much in evidence and much of it was definitely punk rock, albeit their artier version of it. I was especially pleased to hear Two People in a Room, possibly my favourite Wire track: compelling, linear, concise – one of those songs that you couldn’t imagine any other band thinking up. Another old favourite Kidney Bingos was also played, although I thought Drill was disappointing compared to how they used to play it in a elongated, more punishing version.
The second encore was a new song that was going for the My Bloody Valentine painfully loud wall of noise and succeeded well, although as a result I’m definitely suffering from Eardrum Buzz (a song they didn’t play). The guitarist from the support group thrashing around a la Thurston Moore while sitting directly in front of his amp is definitely a candidate for tinnitus. Wire didn’t come on until around 9.45 so I knew I wouldn’t get in until 1.00am – the midnight train from Lewes to Hastings was standing room only to Eastbourne, which was a shock.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact