Monday, 25 March 2013

Wire at Heaven 24 March 2013


It’s still stupidly cold out. Once again I’ve eschewed the pleasures of a warm home to venture out. And on a Sunday night too. It had better be something special.

It is. This is the culmination of a weekend of gigs and events to celebrate the release of the new album by art rock veterans Wire.

The venue is thronged by identikit figures, short haired men of middle age clothed in black. I fit right in.

First onstage is East India Youth, which is the non de guerre of William Doyle, a slight and dapper young man behind a bench of electronic equipment. Having seen so many acts like this, I’m prepared for the worst, but things soon take a turn for the interesting.

Doyle is less interested in beats as he is in almost orchestral washes of sound. And he sings, grabbing a microphone towards him to keen in a piercing high pitched voice. It sounds better than that description.

Once he gets into his stride he unshackles a guitar and uses it to generate a humungous repetitive thrash. It’s a great noise and goes down well with this crowd. East India Youth is musically all over the map, there are three distinct types of music rubbing against each other.  He’s worth keeping an eye on.

This gig is the official unveiling of a Wire project that has been over thirty years in the making. When the band first split up back in 1981, they left behind some unrecorded songs, some of which surfaced on ‘Document + Eyewitness’, a live album of a particularly wilful piece of performance art which was an indulgent mess even at the time.

Now, all these years later, the band have revisited some of these songs and fashioned them into a new album ‘Change Becomes Us’. Tonight they play this in its entirety.

As the first notes of ‘Doubles and Trebles’ ring out, it is clear that the band are still brimming with the concise metallic power that always set them apart from their cotemporaries. There is a distinctive Wire sound that has never been replicated elsewhere.

The ‘new’ songs sound terrific. This is not how the band would have sounded back in the day, this is very much Wire 2013.

Colin Newman snaps at his guitar and sings with a nasal whine that occasionally rises in pitch and hysteria until he sounds like an angry Dalek. Graham Lewis looks like a lugubrious Highland warrior, the streamers that hand down from the back of his tam o’ shanter echoing the waves of the appalling mullet hairstyle he sported in the Eighties.

It’s an intriguing collection of songs. You can hear ghosts of tunes that did make it onto the first three seminal Wire albums. For example ‘Magic Bullet’ at least in its live form, is so close to ‘Map Ref 41ON 93O W’ from third album ‘154’ that only a parent could tell them apart.

Other tracks have altered completely. A particularly trying moment on ‘Document’ was ‘Eels Sang Lino’ (which is described on the accompanying sleeve notes as “Vocalist accompanied by and lit by illuminated goose…”), a song of incoherent gabbling in a silly Monty Python voice. The modern ‘Eels Sang’ is a much more restrained beast sung by Lewis and it finally makes sense.

You can’t take the art punk out of Wire completely. The encore sees them joined onstage by over twenty guitarists for a massed version of ‘Pink Flag’. I’ve seen many massed guitar orchestras over the years, notably from Glenn Branca, but this is the first time that it actually SOUNDS like twenty guitars going full out. I think it is because they have each bought an individual amp rather than are being fed through a central sound system.

It’s absolutely deafening and a fitting end to a massively impressive performance.

(Here's video footage. The noise was too much for the recording equipment to bear).


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