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Wire’s live return (after, er, about five months off, but this does mark the beginning of the campaign for next year’s Red Barked Tree album) came under the auspices of DiS’s sister/uncle/something or other site The Quietus. This was something the crowd could have ascertained not only from the large banner at the back of the stage with TQ’s logo on it, but also the heroically discomfiting DJ set that editor-in-chief John Doran chose to ‘warm up’ with. If anybody wants to know how to slightly freak out a roomful of middle aged Wire fans, John handily emailed me the first segment of his playlist, which runs thusly:
The Body - 'Empty Hearth'; Pan Sonic - 'Trepanointi/Trepanation'; Dragged Into Sunlight - 'Boiled Angel'; Gnaw Their Tongues - 'Broken Fingers Point Upwards In Vain'
Excellent stuff. Anyway, supporting are the increasingly ubiquitous Factory Floor; DiS has seen them three times in the last couple of months and still doesn't exactly know what to make of them. Indoors, their reputation for being excessively loud is vindicated, somewhat – the kick drum feels like somebody is stamping my brain – but is deafening volume particularly to this music’s advantage? Near as I can tell, they play three songs, of which the second – marked by Nic Colk slicing her guitar with a bow and breaking out some soft, semi-decipherable vocals – works the best, a more straight up dancey number that vaguely suggests what HEALTH might come up with if they were to write a 20 minute song whilst in one of their more euphoric moods. Elsewhere, though, it’s hard to see what Factory Floor are exactly getting at: their songs are very long, and the first and last feel strangely structureless, sprawling pools of noise and electronica that refuse to build momentum, a series of cool things bundled together without an exact master plan. But they’re undeniably compelling, and the drummer is a goddamn hero.
Wire have had a curious last decade, in which regular live performances and the introduction of new blood into the line up has demystified this once aloof art punks considerably. At the same time the sheer quality of these middle aged men’s Noughties output – particularly 2003’s furious Send - has returned them to the musical firmament as an act roughly as popular as they were in their previous spurts of activity, ie a decent sized cult act. At their live best - especially around the Send era - they can still play with a murderous intensity that quite belies their middle aged. Tonight things are much more relaxed and knockabout, Newman and Lewis trading quips like an old married couple, Gotobed saying nothing and Matt Sims – their latest second guitarist – looking charmingly apologetic for not being Bruce Gilbert (his bandmates poke fun at him for having purchased an official gig poster for the night; “cut your hair! And, and... be older!” comes a heckle).
Which is very nice, and this is essentially an intimate show to test some new material, and Wire do touch upon virtually every album over the course of the night... buuuuuuut... somehow it doesn’t feel quite as special as it should be, maybe because of the mellow mood, maybe because the band’s choice of punk era songs (‘The 15th’, ‘Pink Flag’, ‘Lowdown’), great though they are, hasn’t varied much in the last few years. It’s an enjoyable evening, but room size it doesn’t really feel like we’re being treated, especially.
That said, it's Wire, who are a really fucking awesome band, with a massive back catalogue that’s almost supernatural in its refusal to date in any way, shape or form. In a time when ‘guitar music’ seems to be having a bit of an awkward patch, Wire’s harsh/soft/dubby/doomy/jangly/melodic/abrasive repertoire is of such uniformly high standard and so defiant of any prevailing trends any era that you almost wonder what everybody else’s problem is. People talk about the first three records, but when they pluck out a song as eerily great as the claustrophobic ‘Drill’, from 1987, it’s difficult to see that this band has ever really faltered. The new tracks suggest Red Barked Tree is going to be one of their more melodic excursions and that’s just peachy, though if next time they tour they can take a couple of leaves from the Doran school sonic aggression, that would be excellent.
photo by Maria Jefferis
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