The Garage, London (May 26, 2000)
Back they came from their American jaunt, reportedly sleeker and tighter than ever, finding themselves in a rather different London venue than their previous performance. The Garage is small, black and smoky... Perfect for Wire.
Or at least it would have been. Part one of the evening involved some screeching sounds, presumably meant to be a short introductory replacement for RFH's Krev, although due to technical difficulties this went on for about 20 minutes. Of course, this gave Wire an advantage—if they weren't any good, no-one at the front would know as they were now all stone deaf.
The uneasiness prevailed for the first few tracks, the now familiar monotone Pink Flag was riddled with feedback, Silk Skin Paws was sped up to good effect, but still a little tentative. Boiling Boy went on and on, as always. And then something clicked: the audience, the band, the space—everything. Lowdown was the launch pad; it wasn't the song or the nostalgia (well, unless you talk to all the 30 and 40-somethings who kept waffling on around me that they'd "seen them the first time round" and that this was now "the real Wire")—it just worked. A wise decision meant Advantage in Height followed; tighter, faster, nothing out of place and the second biggest cheer of the evening. Even the old gits now had to admit that at least some of Wire's non-EMI music was good stuff!
'The new one', namely He Knows followed. For me, this piece failed badly at Royal Festival Hall, sounding like an under-rehearsed selection of noises thrown together. Time together in America has changed all that, transforming it into a kind of spacious Not to-esque exploration. While this is still not a true classic from the band it gives Wire some much needed diversity with its current material (in so much as it isn't a 'wind them up and let them go drone' or a '90 miles per hour' piece).
40 Versions was next, introduced by a suitably noisy and distorted introduction, which baffled a few of the crowd. This was another weak Royal Festival Hall piece that has really come of age. Wire now gives it space to breathe, allowing it to run its full course to great effect, pushing it away from its pop roots to the realms of a Boiling Boy.
Another the Letter then came and went in about eight seconds, now (unfortunately) even lacking the feedback riddled introduction and build-up from Royal Festival Hall, but still sounding great nonetheless (third biggest cheer). Finally, another Mercy, which had me crying out for it (there's only so many times one can hear certain tracks). Of course, I was in the minority here, and this raucous piece got half the Garage bobbing up and down. And then Wire left.
It was fairly obvious that there would be an encore, but I, like everyone else, was probably expecting 12XU and Drill. Again. Well, we were in for a bit of a surprise as Wire belted out Mannequin—a combination of punk and cabaret, complete with Colin and Bruce playing different chords to strangle the pop out of it—not that the pogoing crowd cared less. It would have been the second loudest cheer of the evening, but I think when it finished people were a bit confused. "Bet you weren't expecting that" quipped Colin. Quite right, but we were certainly not expecting what followed, apparently a Bruce 'logic' special. Graham gave Bruce his bass, who stared at it in his usual 'so this is a guitar' manner before dragging a relentless chugging riff out of it. Robert started thumping out an angular drum pattern and Colin started hitting something like a SynDrum, thus producing bizarre noises. Graham stood at the back fiddling with some other electronic implement, presumably making various other odd sounds that were now emanating from the amps and now confusing the crap out of everyone. Wire's tribute to the record industry (and now a popular biscuit) Go Ahead had begun. This was as severe as Wire has got in its current incarnation, almost veering towards Document and Eyewitness territory, Colin bobbing round the stage hitting his electronic thing, frantically searching for a piece of paper that had the words on when the time came. Only they didn't get any bottles thrown at them—there were no clever boys this time, only appreciative ones.
Of course, 12XU then leapt to the fore. Wire has now decided to play the track rather than murder it every night, and one wonders if any of the old material survives after this set of London gigs whether they're just going to segueway it into Drill, as both tracks sound pretty similar these days. Mind you, 12XU is still treading the narrow line between 'classic punk nostalgia' and 'cabaret'. Drill, on the other hand, is now Wire's excuse to be noisy buggers, and is akin to being strafed by fighter planes. The intro was a noisy mess of distortion, the 'middle' a kind of recognisable version with small echoes of the original's beats and basslines appearing every now and again. The ending is now false, 'could this be a Drill' being followed by another minute of 'dugga', complete with Graham screaming into the mike.
And then it was all over.
If nothing else, this new Wire has proved one thing: they've still got it. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the biggest cheer of the evening was for 12XU. Unlike Wire, some things never change.
Set list: Pink Flag, Silk Skin Paws, Boiling Boy, Lowdown, Advantage in Height, He Knows, 40 Versions, Another the Letter, Mercy.
Encore: Mannequin, Go Ahead, 12XU, Drill.
Photography: Kevin Eden