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Review

Wire

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, UK (December 8, 2000)

7/12: 1930

The fun started at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. Wire biographer Kevin Eden invited me out to see Scanner and when a couple of Robin Rimbaud's videos showed dashboard views of roads being eaten up, it was a sign. It was the road to Edinburgh and I had to be on it!

After a few beers it seemed like a good idea to hop on an overnight coach to Edinburgh and doze the journey away. I woke in Glasgow with a pain in my chest and a tongue swollen from mouth breathing and began to wish I'd waited until morning. However, when the first grey light of Scots dawn crept in to the sound of Men 2nd I knew I was entering the Wirezone and began to hum. Women and children first!

8/12: 0930

A dome of grey fog hung over Edinburgh. Spent the day wandering around looking and listening. Edinburgh is easily the most visually spectacular city in the UK, and seems far more continental than any English towns. London is a grimy hole in comparison. The castle towers above, and the trains run on low down cutaway tracks. Noises reverberate across the nearly deserted sunken gardens.

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Checked email at the Tourist Information Centre and found out that Wire manager Paul Smith had put me on the guest list and kindly invited me along to meet up with the Wire entourage! In the northern Avalanche branch they were playing The Ideal Copy. I asked them to turn it up for Over Theirs and they were nice enough to oblige. The southern branch of Avalanche is just round the corner from the Queen's Hall, where Wire was playing. Perhaps it wasn't altogether surprising that they were also playing a Wire CD, since the gig had been organised as Avalanche's Xmas party. Soon it was 4 pm and the members of Wire were due to arrive.

I bumped into Susan Stenger on Clerk Street and got the lowdown on Wire activity. At the hall I chatted with Bruce and Colin whilst they strung and tuned guitars. Colin introduced me to Malka, and she took my photo for part of her Ideal Copy art project. Then I retired to the pews to hear the soundcheck.

Robert was surveying the stage like a farmer looking over his acres. The soundcheck began with Bruce and Robert checking their electronics out and things were beginning to sound intriguing: Robert seemed to have more observable active input into the track than Bruce or Graham, whose synth was looping and phasing, sounding like a variation on his pre>He material. Colin strummed the riffs to Heartbeat and He Knows. Bruce fired off a little open tuned thunder. They checked that all the parts of the new drone instrumental, which was to open the set were rumbling in the right places, then tore through Ally in Exile and a short new song called Germ Ship.

8/12: 1945

I met up with Mark Bursa and Paul Rabjohn in the bar of the very posh Balmoral Hotel where Mark was staying. These guys are both bigger than me and seem to like a drink... all evening I kept turning round to find another beer!

We taxied back to the Queen's Hall and minutes later Uri Baran arrived, straight off the plane and still in his suit.

Four Ideal Copy members were present, level and ready to spin, which gave the email list certain symmetry with Wire.

The support band Life Without Buildings seemed a bit lightweight, sounding like Altered Images with a splash of Talking Heads. Maybe it's the name that made me think of the latter and the small, cute singer skipping about like a birthday Grogan that made me think of the former. We were soon in the bar gassing about Wire!

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Back in the main hall the lighting shifted and there was a palpable thickening of the atmosphere as Wire prepared to take the stage. Bruce and Robert seemed to quietly materialise at their gadget posts and the hum and pulse began. Centre stage, Colin coaxed drones from his guitar by resonating the strings with an e-bow. It took a while for some to realise that the gig had begun, but when Graham strode on halfway through the dronestrumental there was a round of applause and the fourth letter zoomed into place. The sequence locked perfectly and the Wirengine was picking up speed slowly but surely. The set list had it as Zoom.

The low-key opening meant that the photographers, girls and men in wheelchairs could join me for a gentle sway at the front. Sadly there was no sign of Jimmy the illuminated goose. What has become of him? The rearranged Heartbeat pumped itself free of the Zoom and although it didn't connect with me as emotively as on Garage Sunday, I was still very glad to hear it again.

Colin must've remembered how to play Ally in Exile after its descendent Art of Persistence was deemed too light for there it was doubling and trebling the locks on its doors once more. If anything its the perfect showcase for Bruce's minimal but devastatingly effective open tuned apocalypse guitar which makes enough noise for four lesser instruments. Rarely have so few chords done so much. Everything Wire play live now seems to make a mockery of the original versions!

Colin and especially Bruce seem a lot more relaxed and comfortable on stage than they did at the Royal Festival Hall. Colin had an almost lackadaisical air about him, like he was transported somewhere in a dream of his own. Bruce didn't turn his back on the audience like he did at the Garage, and seemed to be enjoying himself more. He almost broke into a jig during Pink Flag! And whilst at the Garage he seemed to be locked into concentration trying to remember how to play the chords, here it seemed a lot less trouble.

Robert and Graham are both incredibly intense performers in their own way and both make very visceral, muscular rhythms seem quite effortless. Graham sometimes looks at his powerful bass like some long lost love, whilst Robert shoots his cymbals looks of such eagle eyed intent they could almost crack from it! More amusingly when he does peer out at the audience, he looks like he's wondering why the hell they're there.

The set was an almost perfect study in acceleration—except for Lowdown which dipped the pace a little after a joyfully fiery Advantage in Height, every track seemed to rock harder than its predecessor. 12XU and Pink Flag were definitely the best versions I've heard and whilst the encore Drill didn't quite ascend to the heights it did with Susan Stenger's help on Garage Saturday, it was still intense, with Colin's "Could this be a?" holler ending the rewired performance, leaving us memories of perfect sound forever.

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The new song Germ Ship was a bit of a surprise! It really rocked hard compared to the other new material that's emerged since February. Art of Persistence, He Knows, Zoom and the new Heartbeat, which is taking on a life of its own, are all slow to mid-paced and fairly reflective. Germ Ship was like a bastard son of the Pink Flag album, returned after travelling the world with a bag full of blacked out CD's, alarms in glass, marzipan sheds, techno beats and organic parsnips. It opened with an instrumental section which was like a venomous axe through The Commercial then Colin and Graham stepped purposefully up to the mikes as one and sang words of fatal attraction before the ship circled out with an outro much as the intro. It was all over in about two minutes flat.

The fully formed He Knows and Boiling Boy were still playing the beauty card even if Bruce has roughed up his hat thief a little. My atoms were excited enough to keep me moving for the whole gig, and the rest of the crowd seemed to catch up by Advantage in Height.

Once again Wire was in appearance unique and in action of course delivered. If only there was even just one other British rock band even half this magnificent!

Afterwards Colin spoke to us with his voice. He said they were bored with Mercy and told me to keep practising my dancing. That cheeking tongue always seems to have the last word.

Graeme Rowland

Photography: Paul Rabjohn

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