Nottingham Heavenly Social Club, UK (February 23, 2000)
This was an important one, preceding the RFH gig as a warm up, but at a venue much more conducive to enjoying the music—a small sweaty club with no seats.
There were many questions to be answered. What did they look like? Were they really going to play old material? What about some new stuff? Had they lost it?
I escaped from work early and stopped off at a motorway services to change out of my suit and into something sensible. I picked up Howard Spencer at Oxford and we drove for a couple of hours up to Nottingham. We found the venue easily and were early so we parked ourselves in the downstairs bar waiting for the upstairs club to open. The audience seemed older than one would expect for a club gig, but about right for a group that's been around (on and off) for 23 years.
Colin and Robert were in the downstairs bar so we went and said hello. Bruce and Graham were nowhere to be seen. The anticipation was growing as I hadn't seen Wire somewhere really small for about 15 years.
Wire rock out in Nottingham
We went up and found Paul Rabjohn and later met John Roberts. Paul is very well known on the Ideal Copy mailing list as probably its most regular contributor and a serious Wire fan and collector.
Wire emerged at about 9:30—three guitars and drums like the old days—back to their roots. Bruce, who always looked older than his years, has stopped aging and is now perhaps catching up and sported a bright blue and a bright red guitar and a very short haircut. Graham (also with crewcut but almost skinhead) looked fit and imposing with a Fender Bass. Colin hasn't changed much, still with his trademark white Ovation guitar and Robert is thinning a bit on top. But so much for the years, what would they play and how would it sound?
The set was a cracking collection of material spanning the first three EMI LP's and a selection from 1985-1988, along with two new tracks.
Graham and Robert do their thang
The full set list was Pink Flag/Silk Skin Paws/40 Versions/Boiling Boy/Art of Persistence/Lowdown/Madman's Honey/Advantage in Height/He Knows/Being Sucked in Again/Strange/Serious of Snakes/Another the Letter/Mercy/12XU.
Art of Persistence is a super new track—restrained, melodic and very catchy. The other, He Knows, I'm not sure about yet.
Hmm... a guitar. I remember these...
I couldn't believe the track choices, seeing and hearing Lowdown and 12XU being performed in a manner not that different from Live at the Roxy—1977 was a bit of a dream for me as I was 13 at the time and not into that sort of music. A couple of other tracks from Pink Flag appeared including the title track itself. Chairs Missing didn't feature too heavily with Being Sucked in Again, Mercy and Another the Letter and we only got 40 Versions from 154 which was a shame. Mind you, I suppose it's difficult to do justice to some of that material with the current set-up of three guitarists and a drummer. The '80s songs consisted of a lot of my personal favourites from that period and they were performed well. Overall though, the highlights for me were Mercy, Lowdown and 12XU. I have been referred to as an 'old git' but they are classics.
All in all, the sound wasn't great. A lot of detail and ambience were missing and the mix was crap, which didn't help. I was standing with my minidisc recorder next to someone with a camcorder and someone else with a very expensive looking mic with a stand. It seems as though Wire has decided to satisfy demand for live recordings at last...
Robert attempts to launch a new stand-up act
Perhaps most importantly, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Not excessively, but enough. I'm not convinced that Graham was, as his contribution was quite restrained with no lead vocals for any song. The audience were loving it. I stood there with a stupid grin on my face for the whole set, as I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. The energy is still there as is the sound and talent.
Perhaps most important is not what they did but why they did it. Rules in Wire are made to be broken and plenty were broken that night. The band was back to its roots after denying those roots for so long, so the question is how will Wire evolve from those roots this time? Word has it that Robert only conceded to rejoin if the electronics were removed; a good move as far as I'm concerned for now but how will the other three cope with that limitation considering where Wir ended up and with the heavy electronic content of all their recent solo work?
Colin looking shifty
Does this really work for Graham, or is he there for other motivations? Can they maintain creativity and innovation as they always have but with a more financially oriented approach? I hope so, as both are required for longevity. If they're still playing a set of their greatest hits in six months time, that will be answered, but for now, it's wonderful to behold.
I eagerly await musical answers to these questions. More, please.
Photography: Paul Rabjohn