Document and Eyewitness
Despite the popular opinion that Wire contains a bunch of self-serving, sometimes pretentious musicians, I've always thought the opposite. Wire is interesting and different rather than pretentious; thoughtful rather than self-serving. If ever there was a record likely to change my mind then this is the one.
By 1980 Wire's contract with EMI had broken down and the band decided to 'challenge' the audience at what was to be their final gig in five years. What ensued was a set of chaotic, partially improvised pieces alongside rather dubious performance art. Although it's quite interesting to read about this part of Wire's history, it's not quite the same thing to actually listen to it. The Electric Ballroom set borders on the shambolic and the audio recording is close to bootleg quality. At times it's like being witness to a musical car crash—engaging, but perhaps not for the right reasons.
We are treated to one-liners as to what was happening in the inlay: 'Vocalist attacks gas stove' during Piano Tuner; 'Woman enters pulling 2 tethered men and an inflatable jet' during Everything's Going to be Nice. This would have perhaps worked a little better if there were some accompanying photos. The audio certainly fails to stand up on its own, although we are mercifully spared yet another version of 12XU as a voice interrupts the track after a few seconds saying, 'I don't have to go to the arctic to know it's cold'.
Thankfully, another ten tracks are included on the CD, seven of which are from an earlier performance at Notre Dame Hall. These are mostly better than the Electric Ballroom pieces and give one an insight as to what Wire's fourth EMI album might have contained. Witness to the Fact is particularly good—a kind of subdued punk combined with Wire's newfound new wave sensibilities. Combined with the 'bonus' tracks Our Swimmer and Midnight Banhof Café, some credibility is brought to this release and might make it worthy of some consideration, if only as a curiosity piece.
Craig Grannell (1998)