HQ, Dublin, EIRE (February 20, 2000)
History was made in Dublin on the 20th of February as Wire played its first Irish gig. It was a very low-key start to their retrospective, with virtually no publicity—just a couple of posters up in town. I only found out about it by accident, after I'd bought my plane tickets to see them at Royal Festival Hall. Cycling into work one morning, I spotted one of said posters and nearly had an accident.
The previous and only time I had seen Wire had been 14 years ago in the Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith. My memory of it is pretty dim now but I do remember the band played raw versions of what was to appear on The Ideal Copy and A Bell is a Cup... The songs had an immediacy that got squeezed out on the overproduced records—technological teething problems that are well-documented in Kevin Eden's biography. I remember being very impressed with Robert Gotobed's stripped-down kit: snare, bass drum and hi-hat. The simplicity really appealed to me; there was something very workmanlike about it—a craftsman's touch.
'Workmanlike' certainly described the way Wire took to the stage in Dublin. After a support band that professed complete ignorance of Wire, four familiar figures quickly assembled on stage. Without any further ado, it was 1-2-3-4 and bang!—the Wire sound filled the room. What a joyous noise it was: tight, focussed and honed to perfection—practice makes perfect. And, God knows, these men are devils for the practice, such is the Wire work ethic. How it paid off though. There is great rigour and precision to the way these men shape, control and project that distinctive sound that raises hairs on the back of my neck. How well they all looked: lean and tight cropped. How driven the energy, the commitment and how intense the spirit, not dimmed in the slightest with time. How inspiring this was to watch. How happy this made me!
Certain songs really stood out; the opening gambit a very robust rendering of Pink Flag, two of my favourites from Chairs Missing—the barbed breeze blocks of Being Sucked in Again and the towering, triumphant Mercy. Jaysus, what a delicious racket it was. No, not a racket—that suggest sloppiness. It was a torpedo shot with deadly accuracy straight to the cerebral cortex—a surgical strike. It was like mainlining pure adrenaline. They threw in a couple of new ones as well, one of which reminded me of Document and Eyewitness. What has always appealed to me about Wire is the band's 'matter of fact' attitude. No lighting changes, no contrived look, no guitar solos or drum frills, no chat, no 'rock'n'roll' endings to songs—they're just there, and then they're gone. On the face of it, this may seem unemotional, cold and brutal, yet it engages the emotions wonderfully, stimulates the imagination and resonates after the fact.
Robert Gotobed's drumming style in and of itself has never been one that's greatly interested me (I'm more a fan of Jaki Leibezeit), but in the context of Wire it's perfect. The drums are the workhorse that drive the guitars along; stripped and polished, every beat has a place and purpose and nothing is superfluous. It's like watching a human metronome and is simply the most ego-less drumming I've ever come across.
It was such a delight to be treated to a trawl through the back catalogue, especially as I didn't catch them during the Wire's early period. Wire may have broken its golden rule but make no mistake; there wasn't a whiff of nostalgia. Nothing was lovingly recreated in every detail—the songs have been reworked, brought up-to-date, kept vital and relevant. I think it's because Wire was so 'out of time' (in the positive sense), that the songs remain fresh.
Other highlights included A Serious of Snakes, Another the Letter, Advantage in Height, Two People in a Room, and a curiosity of 40 Versions with drums. It's like that song acquired legs, got up and started walking, striding confidently—a peripatetic rendition. After the first encore of Two People in a Room, which sent shivers of delight down my spine (I've always loved those screamed vocals), Wire came back with the diehard's anthem. There's no need to say what it was, as it's so obvious! It was highly entertaining but, at the risk of being branded an absolute heretic, to me it's one of Wire's most overrated songs. Of course, the crowd went wild for it; the floor in front of the stage becoming a knot of writhing bodies. For a split second it could have been 1977 all over again and then Wire departed as quickly and unceremoniously as it entered. There's no doubt about it, these men delivered the goods. Oh, what a pearl, what a well-made world.
Set list: Pink Flag, Silk Skin Paws, 40 Versions, Boiling Boy, The Art of Persistence, Lowdown, Madman's Honey, Advantage in Height, He Knows, Being Sucked in Again, Strange, A Serious of Snakes, Another the Letter, Mercy.
Encore: Two People in a Room, 12XU.
Photography: Cormac Figgis