Triptych Festival, The Tramway, Glasgow, UK (April 30, 2004)
With a bill that featured The Liars and Pansonic, as well as John Peel and Irmin Schmidt on decks, there wasn't much more you could ask for tonight. The sounds of Can that floated through Tramway at various points continued through the PA as we waited for Wire to take the stage. There's always a strong sense of anticipation before Wire hit the boards. This was heightened by the elation effect of hearing Tago Mago in this context on a good meaty PA. Things were running about twenty minutes late. The wait seemed interminable (keep 'em keen, eh?)
Euphoria erased ennui as lights were killed, pulsing began, searchlights beamed, and Colin started a manic pacing up and down the stage, with daft rants about fate, monkeys and wooden masters. He was like a caged animal. The ritual repetition of tireless treading to and fro heightened the sense of anxiety within the song. With lyric sheet in hand he looked like a crazed bingo caller. Bingo master's freak-out! Kid-me bingos!
Graham and Bruce added some additional noises, but the song remained essentially in its karaoke version, the only really live element being Colin's voice. This is undoubtedly as good a blood stirrer as any to start a gig with, always enjoyable, but I'd love to hear them do a genuinely live version, complete with drums, the pulsing as the only tape element. Two years on playing this I'm surprised to see Colin still brandishing a piece of paper with the words. I thought he could sing it backwards at this stage.
Wire ripped into the rest of the set with characteristic gusto, and their enthusiasm was infectious. The conditions seemed just right, with an audience duly primed and salivating; on the last set of a short tour, the excitement is palpable. There's not much left to say about this set that hasn't been said already, except that it is as breathless as ever—adrenalized, athletic: a sprint. With barely a second, it seems, between songs, these well-worn tunes are second nature by now.
With amphibious charm, Colin is tearing about, clearly loving every minute of it, looking very sprightly by degrees in slim-fit black T-shirt with minidisc diagram. Progress with a vision, his filament burns as the firmament turns. Bolted to his bass, a black clad and beady-eyed Graham is chanting a curse whilst religiously chewing. Eyes steady for peeling, his look seems to calibrate displeasure. He's on a roll. Is it time to reap air? Is it time for some rocking?
Farmer by day, drummer by night, bolt upright Bob, the builder of beats is keeping time like a metronome. The Earl Grey is master of all he plays. The best of your (agri)culture. Dress code continuity in grey sweatshirt, with super-fit sinews, he could be a trainer ("right you lot – keep strumming those guitars!"). Then it's down to cut-sleeve black T-shirt and eyes closed. This man means business. Bob the backbone. Pure. Precise. Professional.
Will BBC Gilbert ever stay still for a second? To the naked eye, this man appears like the still point in Wire's maelstrom: Zen and the art of stopping. Yet this man is a shapeshifter of epic proportions, many levels removed from reality. Not present in the present. His speed is such that we just can't even begin to perceive the rings he runs around the others. Occasionally I thought I could detect flickers, but it may have been a fault with my peripheral vision. One trade off for this skill is that he can never face the audience. But Bruce, gentleman that he is, would never thus turn his back on the audience, so side on is selected. That way he can keep an eye on the others.
The songs are whizzing past and we're nearing the end of the set. Not averse to a bit of rocking out, Colin's head bobs low down as though pulled by a string in the floor, his guitar suddenly a leaden weight, his spine forms an 'r'. All in the art of stooping. he stoops to conquer... Now they're on the slide, the time is coming, just keep watching. Your time's up. Exit stage left. Thunder from the floor. You can't leave now!
Hearing the cheering, they eventually return, resume transmission, and run a four-minute mile through 106 Strange Surgeon's Girls Beating That Pink Flag. Surgeon's Girl seems to get faster with every play. It hammered along like a woodpecker tonight. As a parting shot, Pink Flag is an ever-growing colossus bestriding the stage, laying to waste all in its wake. There were a few new turns and strokes added that further galvanized this dissonant epic.
Afterwards Colin remarks on the demographic dynamic: "the 40-somethings tend to stand at the back doing this (strokes chin), saying 'mmm... interesting', whilst the 20-somethings are up front dancing away". If I wasn't photographing I would have been bouncing around with the young ones, I respond.
Wire's Scottish dates have all been recorded by a five-camera crew for DVD release, as this sees the end of the Send/Read & Burn set. This set has been doing the rounds for two years now, and Wire are at a crucial stage in the development of the Mark III phase. There's not much more that can be wrung out of this set without the danger of starting to flog a dead horse. This horse's race has been run. Bruce once remarked that they could do this set in their sleep, which is, perhaps, as good a reason as any to finally put it to sleep.
It's time to take stock and make some hard decisions. Read & Burn 03 is still in flux, and material previously recorded for it has been jettisoned in favour of developing a longer-term view for more considered work. This can only be a good thing. Time taken = rewards reaped. What they want to avoid is making Send II. Now that Send has reached its end, it's time to contend: pastures new lay in wait. Tend the crop. Cut the crap. Nurse the new! Positions are shifting. The menu is changing. It's no use despising a new unknown horizon...
Photography: Fergus Kelly