There’s a mixed crowd in the Lexington tonight.
On one hand there is the usual mob who are settled in for the weekly Rough Trade Shops pop quiz and on the other is a long queue of black-clad blokes of a certain age snaking around the inside of the pub, blocking the toilets and generally getting in the way.
The reason for the grey-haired invasion is that Wire are playing a couple of nights to road test some fresh material and break in a new guitarist.
It is with some relief then, when the doors to the upstairs venue finally open and the resulting stampede for favourable positions down the front clears some space. My own group time our entrance for some fifteen minutes later, to allow the old boys some time to settle in and stop pestering the barman.
A bonus this evening is that Factory Floor are supporting. I have seen this band several times before, but only in context of the Offset Festival. On those occasions, the chief impression has been of skull-crushing volume and strobes that assault the senses like being dropped in a war zone.
So it is interesting to see them in a more intimate setting. Centre stage is occupied by the drum kit of Gabe Gurnsey, and on the left is Dom Butler, twiddling with piles of the sort of electronic equipment that looks as though it was pulled out the back of a 1970’s TV set. And on the right is Nik Colk, who plays guitar with a variety of bows and drumsticks, when she doesn’t simply dispense with anything other than the feedback generated when she places her instrument near the speakers.
Factory Floor play three tracks, all excellent and all largely indistinguishable from each other. One of them is ‘A Wooden Box’, although at the time I am unable to identify it.
The signature sound is a Georgio Moroder style electronic throb that threatens to break into Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ but never quite does. Gabe is an absolutely killer drummer, really hammering away in wonderful fashion. Nik provides occasional distorted and unintelligible vocals.
It works really well and the crowd are transported along, nodding their heads gently. Our DJ for the evening, who has been generating noise from behind a ‘Slayer’ laptop, is REALLY getting into it, his head and hair bouncing up and down as though he is down the front at AC/DC.
This is by far the best that I have seen the ‘Floor and on this showing they look set to go from strength to strength. Live performance suits them well.
Wire wander onstage and the audience visibly relaxes in the company of old friends.
The first part of the evening sees an airing of some new songs. Wire have always shifted shape and sound and on first listen it seems as if they are heading back to a more melodic and poppy direction after the raw brutality of the ‘Read and Burn’ and ‘Send’ years.
So for example, we get newbies ‘Clay’ and ‘Please Take’, both of which evoke the mid-Eighties Wire and both of which sound really good.
The Wire back catalogue is formidable and tonight they plunder from the full span of their career, including tracks like ‘Kidney Bingos’ ‘Two People in a Room’ and ‘Advantage In Height’. We even get yet another reading of ‘Drill’ which is always welcome, this being a track that they have reworked so many times that at one stage they put out an entire album’s worth of different versions.
The band are as relaxed as their crowd and are all smiles, even Graham Lewis, who tonight exhibits the air of a benevolent East End gangster – you’re happy that HE’S happy because you wouldn’t want him mad.
Stick thin drummer Robert Grey is in his own little reverie, serenely sitting with his eyes shut, ticking along like a heartbeat…like a heartbeat.
In contrast, Colin Newman seems like an accountant who has wandered onstage, until he starts to sing, when all his old vigour and menacing snap are still apparent.
The previously heralded new live guitarist is clearly under instruction to keep out of the way, but seems to be really getting into the swing of things from beneath a mop of more hair than can be boasted by the rest of the band put together.
The set ends with two slightly protracted encores and a culminating rampage through ‘Pink Flag’ a track that dates from their first album, but which now closes their set in drastically expanded and altered form.
Wire are still relevant, still inventive, still the benchmark of art-punk that others merely aspire to. Salutations!