All Tomorrow's Parties, Camber Sands, UK (April 20, 2002)
If you had to choose between seeing godspeed you black emperor! or Wire play, which would it be?
Before Wire headlined the second day there was an air of excitement much incited by Jason Noble of Rachel's enthusing from on stage. Kazu Makino and Todd Trainer also seemed pretty excited about seeing them.
The Primary Stage went dark and a low drone hummed, very slowly building in intensity, resembling MUZI (In Esse). A bespectacled, silver-haired man walked on and switched on a large flashlight, and close behind, three slightly younger men did the same, swinging the lights direct into the faces of the gathering crowd. This was a fantastic way of slightly disorientating the proceedings and making everyone pay attention. It also reversed the lighting situation so that the faces of the fans were illuminated. Who was there? Two guys named Joe, from the Bilge Pump and Kling Klang groups. Colin's light swung blindingly into my eyes. Bruce abandoned his beacon to shine out from beside his amp to fiddle with guitar effects. Graham and Colin both made slow dance like moves with the beacons. Robert was next to drop his light and did something quite unexpected.
The big surprise: Robert strapped on a headless rail guitar dwarfed by his tall muscular stature. A drum machine fired up as the beacons were switched off. Wire Drilled to Death! Last time they played ATP the set finished with Graham's mourning ritual Drill screams. Now there was yet another the Drill life, with four guitars and no questioning. A Drill without question? Clearly Wire knows where it is going. They were grinding further away from the mill than ever with this sleek and powerful version which cut to the bones of the song and set them moving in a straight line.
Robert took up sticks behind his drum kit. A jerky energetic new song with Colin and Graham alternately shouting letters was hilarious, a bastard eyewitness 2 B 12XU, called Read and Burn. Next Germ Ship sailed in with no Graham vocals and Colin almost as quiet as the new EP. The almost whispered vocal made a smart counterpoint to all the belligerence elsewhere. The shout at the end makes it, but that short track burns with focused energy, launching great simple guitar riffs in opposing angles over one of Graham's most melodically bouyant bass lines. Germ guitars sound like drills! At various times Bruce's guitar seemed to be reciting a dugga mantra (or was I just drunk?). They played everything from RnB01 and probably half of what will later appear on RnB02. There were three new songs and all were in a similar hard and fast vein but perhaps even better than RnB01. The heaven-sent extinction event Comet seemed to make the most feet move, an instant hit, even if it was the silliest song in the set. Our driver Dez heard it for the first time on the way down and thought it sounded like Ace of Spades, which was quite funny. Motorhead are a bit lumpy compared to Wire though.
I Don't Understand seemed like a war cry to slaughter the main set body. The idea that misunderstanding can raze mountains from molehills seemed reflected in Colin's grim expression. This was the other surprise as Colin's usually looked quite jovial at Wire gigs, but here he looked like he was ready to kill. Colin's anger lifted I Don't Understand and 1st Fast with added venom. I wasn't all that convinced by Colin's vocal for the recording of 1st Fast, but live it all made sense. Could anyone say who was the bastard?
The Agfers of Kodack was slower, giving the song extra wingspan and lift, and Graham sang all of it. Actually he sings all of it on RnB01 too, but the chorus sounds like he was doing a Colin impression and had several long time Wire fans confused for a while. All the new songs sound different live, and all seemed at least slightly slower except maybe In the Art of Stopping which reminds me of Cheeking Tongues in that the guitar riff seems to echo the cheeking vocal melody. Could some of it be in the art of cheeking? Colin held a mike in one hand and thrashed at an open tuned headless plank for Art. The lead kept falling out of his guitar so that he seemed to be giving an inadvertent practical demonstration in the art of stopping, but luckily Bruce was making so much noise it didn't matter much. Graham was the most animated I've ever seen him perform, pulling hilarious illustrative facial expressions and wrestling the bass like his life depended on it. Bruce of course was the opposite, turning back to face Robert who seemed even more still and calm then ever, quite the opposite to the cartoonish flailings of Shellac drummer Todd Trainer. Neither Germ Ship nor Pink Flag had the energy of Edinburgh 2000, but only marginally less so.
Colin's amp sounded on the verge of meltdown as he struck out on the Pink Flag fast thrash monochord rhythms. A magnificently assured Lowdown was probably the slowest number and the best I've ever heard about the time that's too short but never too long. Bruce finished Pink Flag by twisting all his effects into overdrive. Despite Colin and Graham both opining that the warm-up in Bristol the night before had been better, I didn't meet one witness who was not blown away by Wire's performance.
Riff meet aphorism: Wire kept it short so I was able to catch the last godspeed number and feedback film flicker finale downstairs. Outside the queue seemed endless and this was the only organisational mess up I noticed all weekend. Security weren't letting people in even though the room was far from full. Some godspeed fans were getting angry and violence was in the air, as three punters tried to rally everyone to rush the doors.
Next day I caught the last half hour or so of Colin's DJ set in the Queen Vic pub, during which he played an Immersion style remix of The Art of Persistence which sounded unrecognisable to me until the singing gave it away. He said he'd also played slightly different mixes of some RnB01 tracks, but I was watching Zeni Geva rock out upstairs and Flour having lots of equipment problems downstairs. The rest was various Swim tracks including Malka Spigel's Fishes and the Shining Sea and a Ronnie and Clyde track that put bounce to my step as I walked into the pub.
Colin has revealed that each Read and Burn instalment will have a different concept. It seems there will be at least four EPs, maybe five? A great new song entitled Ten Years After with the shouted chorus, "Spit!" is probably going to be on the next one. "It's the simplest chorus we could sing," explained Graham, "And we'd never have got away with it in 78!" before recounting a tale of spitting on a racist. Lyrical fragments refracted - "Exposed in Paradise/Religious Extremism/Septic Industry/Empty Distillery/Who's the Hero Tonight?/ Spit! Spit! Spit! Spit! Spit!" Revolving around an endless biting two note riff, it seems to nail in three minutes the global uncertainties godspeed take two hours to imply and fret about. Lyrically it makes a stark companion to the reportage of The Agfers of Kodack. On another level it sounds like fun poked at moronic big rock star me(n)tality. The other new song had the intriguing title Mr Marx's Table.
Could later Read and Burn instalments be hacked up fragments of missing chairs or moodier slower numbers like the Mutant Heartbeat and He Knows and the droning Zoom?
Photography: Greg Neale