Band on the Wall, Manchester
I’ve reviewed Wire on here before. They’re always worth seeing, of all the Post-Punk bands of their era they’re probably the most vital and fresh sounding. They’ve made a virtue of not relying on past glories. They could have easily made a tidy living doing the ‘classic albums’ circuit playing their first eighventies 3 LPs for EMI/Harvest (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154) in full and doing the punk festivals playing ‘I Am The Fly’ and ’12XU’. Instead, since their most recent reformation in 2000 they’ve stayed doggedly in the present releasing new LPs which have garnered critical plaudits, gained new fans and and playing live shows which largely see them playing new music with only the occasional dip into the back catalogue – as frontman Colin Newman admits Wire are ” their own worst tribute band”.
Seasoned Wire fans therefore have pretty much grown accustomed to a live show that will consist of new album tracks, maybe a few select oldies but rarely the obvious ones. More often than not they will be trying out new tracks from a yet to be recorded new album.I’ve seen a lot of these, and witnessed the odd disgruntled old punk missing out on a pogo, but also seen people blown away by the vitality and uncompromisingly hefty sound the band make, 40 odd years into their career.
Wire have a new record out, ‘Mind Hive’. It’s very good. It won’t displace any of their classics but it shows they’ve not lost their way with making catchy but completely twisted and nasty takes on Pop (try ‘Off The Beach’) and artfully moody soundscapes (‘Hung’). I’m expecting to hear some of these played live along with tracks from the last few, and maybe the odd ‘oldie’ drawn from a small pool Wire have picked from that they can comfortably drop in the set.
So it comes as something of a surprise that set begins with a semi-acoustic rendition of ‘The Offer’ – a firm fan favourite relegated to the B-side of their 1989 near-hit Eardrum Buzz. It blends just fine into the unsettling nee-naw riff of ‘Be Like Them’ from the new LP. The oldies keep coming though albeit in true Wire tradition they’re mostly not the obvious ones. Nothing at all is played from the past few Wire albums and apart from a rip-roaring ‘1st Fast’ from the comeback LP ‘Send’ everything apart from the 5 new LP tracks is from the 1970s/80s Wire. The theme seems to be old songs that can be dusted down and given a new lease of life rather than ‘classic’ tunes so they’re mining their back catalogue more than usual without doing the obvious. Reports from last nights show in Bristol suggest this was a bit rough around the edges, which might be why Colin walks over to Graham Lewis and high fives him for nailing the stunning opening track from 154 ‘I Should Have Known Better’.
I get the sense they’ve also taken on the challenge of a bunch of oldies for the same reasons they usually fill the set with new tracks so the choice of ‘oldies’ is far from predictable – I doubt any focus group of Wire fans would have picked 2 tracks from their famously unpopular 1990 LP Manscape or an oddity like ‘German Shepherds’. It works well though and just to really mix things up they throw in an absolute curveball by playing the seldom heard classic ‘Ex Lion Tamer’ from Pink Flag and ‘Outdoor Miner’ – a song they didn’t play live at the time it was released but is as close to a ‘hit’ as they ever got and is a much requested track on BBC Radio 6 Music.
A lot of the Wire faithful (I’m sure a lot of you reading this have your own cult bands and know regular faces from gigs) – a sell-out show as are all the UK Dates so presumably not just diehard fans.
It made me think..
Wire have said in interviews that their gigs will ‘become more scarce’ which may have helped sell out the gigs to the ‘last chance to see’ types. I’m surprised that they’ve unexpectedly started playing old tunes, albeit they anticipated audience heckles and fielded calls for even older, more obscure songs with a well-meant ‘fook off!’ from Graham. Ultimately, Wire always surprise me – and they succeeded tonight. I usually sign off by saying go and see them if they’re playing in your town – I think the gigs are all sold out but there may be tx left for Brighton this weekend and they’re in Islington in May. Don’t miss ’em.