Echo Lounge, Atlanta, USA (September 21, 2002)
It was raining. A lot. We stood outside the Echo Lounge in Atlanta, Georgia, waiting to see one of my favorite bands in the world: Wire. You could hear the sound check: The Art of Stopping and—what's this—Reuters? Holy s***.
Ten minutes later, the door opens and Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert step out to wait on an old yellow pickup. I, geeking out but also trying to be extremely polite, offer Graham my raincoat. Graham turns to me with a warm smile and says, "That's very sweet," and puts both warm, bass-playing hands on my face. Is this what Beatlemania felt like? Very soon, the truck appears and Lewis and Gilbert hop in. How very surreal...
Ten minutes later, the same thing happens again, except this time it's Robert (Gotobed) Gray and their tour manager. Another ten minutes passes and this time Colin Newman arrives. "Hello, Colin," I say. Out comes a creaky "Hi" (almost like the one you hear in Surgeon's Girl on Pink Flag and a reptilian smile. Did we just meet Wire? Yes, we did.
The Echo Lounge has a capacity of 159. I know, cause they had it posted on above the door after you walk in. This would be Wire's next-to-last stop on the North American tour, promoting the second in a series of EPs entitled Read and Burn. Opening for Wire was Oxes, whose T-shirt was a mock-up of the cover of Wire's first album, Pink Flag. A sense of humor—an opening act for Wire would have to have one.
Taking our places at the front of the stage, we waited with anticipation. Oxes took the stage by storm, using (sturdy) boxes to tower above the crowd. The guitarist, decked out in a vinyl suit, had a wireless setup for his guitar and would occasionally disappear only to reappear in the audience. The drummer, wild-eyed and with a boyish grin, played with a precision most drummers would kill to have. I guess you would call the music 'math rock'. It made hairpin turns with no regard to any one time signature, but you could see they were well-rehearsed. Mr. Vinyl Suit also implemented a gigantic water gun, threatening the audience between numbers and actually striking twice during their controlled-but-chaotic set.
When the Oxes wrapped up, we waited again for what seemed a million years, but then it was time. A droning synthesizer sound, then a high-pitched sequenced synth, and then Colin Newman appeared. 99.9 was the first number. Eventually, Graham and Bruce walked out and played (if you will) the quarter-inch jacks at the end of their guitar chords. Colin's singing became intense, his slithery dance getting manic; and it seemed the song ended as quickly as it began. Robert then came out to man the drums and the rock began.
Many Read and Burn songs feature heavily treated, confrontational vocals, and these songs rip with a ferocity no one's seen out of Wire since 1977. It was breathtaking; the only thing better than hearing The Art of Stopping outside the venue was being two-feet from Wire when they were performing the song. More highlights included the song Read and Burn; Graham Lewis, looking mean as hell in a sharp black jacket and black slacks, attacking the bass with a ferocious snarl on his face; Bruce Gilbert's still, zen-like stage presence; and Colin's clever dispatch of a heckler crying out for 12XU in the first five minutes of the gig: "You should know by now we never take requests."
Perhaps the encore(s) satisfied the people in the audience hoping for some older material. Reuters got the crowd moving. Bruce Gilbert disappeared temporarily, then came back out for Lowdown. There was another break before the band unleashed Pink Flag and left the show on a high note.
Gracious gentlemen, the four guys spent a lot of time afterward talking to the fans that stayed around and autographing whatever they were handed. My friend Jacques had been handed the set list by another person in the front. Upon approaching Colin, he remarked, "Oh, so you pinched our set list and now you want me to sign it?" with a mischievous grin on his face. For a fan, it was a dream to get to meet the group. Lewis wrote all over the back of my copy of Read and Burn 02 and we all went back to the motel room exhausted, but in absolute bliss.
Jack Alberson. (www.fac193.com)
Photography: David Hunter