Double Door, Chicago, IL, USA, (June 25, 2003)
An extra inning affair (blown 12-6 in top of the 10th) at Wrigley followed by multiple pitchers of margaritas at Las Mananitas on North Halstead meant I missed the opening act. That's life in the city of broad shoulders! On entering the venue, two soundboards suggested complex and challenging sound, which soon got underway.
The show began before the band appeared: electronic trickery allowed drums to be played and guitar chords to be strummed, while a wildly flashing strobe rushed around the stage and focused on whichever instrument was being 'played'. Then, borrowing from Stop Making Sense, the band members arrived on-stage, one per song, with front-man Colin Newman looking like the scion of an EastEnd fruit-dealing empire, who somehow manages to nebbishly dance around the stage and become a rock star. He was soon joined by Graham Lewis, who occasionally gave off unison shouts, Bruce Gilbert, complete with glass shard guitar effects, and finally Robert Gotobed, the human drum machine.
The eleven-song set consisted entirely of material from Send. Highlights included Spent, Lewis's yelps on In the Art of Stopping, Newman's sarcastic "chorus that goes ba-ba-bang" on Comet, and the almost melodic Mr. Marx's Table. Any missing melody from earlier Wire material was made up for by the range of fascinating rhythms and the variety of guitar sounds.
Two encores followed, the first comprising four tunes from Pink Flag, albeit radically remixed to echo the new aesthetic of Wire Mk III: Strange (which the crowd seemed to know via the REM version), 106 Beats That, Surgeon's Girl, and Pink Flag. The second encore was a punishing version of I Don't Understand, whose noisy hiss surely owes a debt to the Jesus and Mary Chain's Never Understand.
Both Newman and Lewis enjoyed themselves enough to shake stage front hands and thank the crowd copiously between encores and as the show ended. There was no 1980s Electric Ballroom sarcasm, but also no 12XU. Upon exiting the club, I overheard two teenagers complaining about the volume of the show. Who'd have though it? young 'punks' got their asses kicked by a quartet of fifty-something baby boomers! The Pink Flag brigade rolls on...
George Evans Light