Wire mean something special to me, something that i have a hard time putting in to words. If you read my review of the last time i saw them, you will see that my experience was like a religious conversion. I went in knowing a bit about the band, and left a rabid fan boy. Since then i have accumulated many Wire CDs and records (lots of good, old vinyl floating around out there) for both the band and their side projects (which all hold up surprisingly well). Heck, i even bought, and read, a biography of the band, the 1991 tome, Everybody Loves a History.
My point here is that i could go on and on and on for this review. I will try to be as concise, and objective, as possible.
Now, another thing that made this more of an event than most shows is that this was also a meet up event for members of the Wire fan list. In fact, we even had a UK fan, who happened to be in the US and was able to re-route a return flight through the Delta hub here, allowing him to catch the show. How weird is that?
So, 4 Wire fan list members, with three companions among them, and a whopping total of 4 people who have written for EvilSponge, were all standing around in front of The Variety Playhouse on a Sunday afternoon. We had some time to kill before the doors open (Wire fans are a punctual lot), so we stepped next door to the café for coffee (for the caffeine addicts amongst us -- yes, i have a problem, shut up about it already!), beer (for the English among us), or water (for the Straight Edge kids in our midst), and a good fun chat. It was a bunch of people who vaguely know each other and mostly share a fascination with a particular band sitting and enjoying one another's company. Sometimes it's great to just sit and talk with other fans -- i highly endorse it!
Around the time the doors opened i was nicely "awake", and we headed into the venue. First stop, merchandising right inside the door. I picked up a cool new t-shirt that says "12XU" on it, and then we headed into the main room to grab seating. I was able to persuade the assembled masses to go to The Usual EvilSponge Spot at The Variety Playhouse (second area back, on stage right), and we sat down to wait for things to get started.
And then Wire walked into the venue, and as they were passing us Colin Newman stopped, saw the British fan, and exclaimed "What are you doing here?" He stood and was introduced to all of us, and he stood chatting pleasantly, holding his laptop and talking with the fans. He seemed like a nice guy.
Colin Newman (l) and transatlantic fan Mark Bursa(r).
As he stood there, various people kept coming up to ask him to sign autographs, and he had to borrow the Sharpie that i keep in my trusty concert bag. At one point some fan said to me, "You should be honored that he is using your pen." Now, i am as big of a fanboy as the next guy, but it's just a damned Sharpie people! I didn't even buy it -- i stole it from work… Sheesh…
So, yes, i got to meet Colin Newman. Pretty cool.
He wandered off, and who should show up but errant Minion K-Tron. He was probably curious after hearing me rant about Wire all of those times… We had quite the little group going, and were up to 5 EvilSponge writers at this point!
Promptly at 8:30, The Selmanaires took the stage. This time they were a 5-piece band, adding a new bongo-player to the additional guitarist they already stacked on to their original trio. The bongos added some nice rhythmic accents, but on the whole i found it made their music a little more noodley than it had been.
Jason Harris on guitar in The Selmanaires.
They played nothing off of their debut record, and of the stuff off of The Air Salesmen i only found that that GMAFB really worked. Otherwise their music had too much going on. Of course, it did not help that the mix was weird -- i could barely hear the guitar, and i could see Tommy Chung playing bass, but i could barely hear it. Weird. I must say that i was not impressed.
The poorly mixed Tommy Chung, with Herb Harris in the background.
Ah, but i was with a big group of people, most of whom had not been watching The Selmanaires for three years. What did they think? Well, surprisingly they all compared The Selmanaires to Talking Heads. I have to admit, i just never got in to Talking Heads. I know a few of their tunes, but never really listened to any of their albums in any depth. Apparently that sound is what The Selmanaires are going for. Who knew? I guess that is why i am not impressed. I'll check back with them in a year or so to see if they have worked out something like The Road to Nowhere, which is the only Talking Heads tune that i would say that i actually like.
So i must admit that i was disappointed with the opening act, when i really did not expect to be. Huh. The Selmanaires were off at 9:15, and we sat around chatting about The Taking Heads, Wire, and things in general. I always enjoy talking to English people, who are fascinated and confused by American cities. Urban-ness is such a different experience for us, and it is often difficult to explain. I do enjoy such conversations though…
About a half-hour after The Selmanaires departed, Wire took the stage. Wire at this point are a different 4-piece than they were when i last saw them. Last time Wire was its initial lineup of Newman, Lewis, Gilbert, and Grey. However, Gilbert has since retired, to be replaced with Margaret Fiedler McGinnis, who has played in Laika and with PJ Harvey. (And you should have seen the furor her addition to Wire created on the fan list. "A girl???? In Wire???" Yes -- Wire fandom is a male thing….) Ms. McGinnis is a damned fine guitarist, and she played wonderfully.
The lovely and talented Ms. McGinnis.
Also, the last time i saw them i remember Mr. Newman bouncing around, screaming into the microphone and playing one of those pod synthesizer things, with only occasional guitar. This time Newman was stationary and guitar-bound.
Colin Newman on guitar, with Graham Lewis in the background.
But it was still glorious. A local fan named Alan Platten (who was there and on the fan list, but i did not meet when the rest of us were all hanging out) got the setlist after the show. He was nice enough to scan it in for me, and here it is:
Rather than going over the entire show tune by tune, let me just discuss a few things. First off, yes Wire were playing a lot off of Object 47, their latest album. I think that One of Us is the real classic off of that disc, but live they played this almost too fast, Newman really screaming the lyrics. I found that i enjoyed Perspex Icon much better. But all of the tracks off of Object 47 took on new life when done live. I have to admit that the production on that album is kind of sterile, but the songs had a real immediacy when played live. Very nice.
Graham Lewis is an icon in perspex.
As the show started, i left our seating area and headed up front, to grab some photos with my crappy, yet Variety Playhouse approved, point-and-click camera. The first few songs were okay. I liked Mr Marx's Table on Send , but for some reason i just wasn't feeling it tonight. As if sensing my existential angst (the dread that Wire could not possibly impress me again), the band tore into Comet, and when the crowd sang along on the chorus, "And the chorus goes, and the chorus goes, and the chorus goes ba-ba-ba-bang", and Newman smiled as he chugged at his guitar, it all fell into place. Sure, this was a drastically different show, but no less exciting.
You know, Colin, one of us will live to rue the day we met each other...
Also of note is that Wire are stretching back into their catalog and playing some interesting older tunes. Silk Skin Paws sounded excellent, but it was Boiling Boy that was the unexpected treat. This was a good enough song on A Bell Is a Cup … Until It's Struck, but here it positively soared. Newman's guitar was heavily layered with chorus and echo so that it chimed in that mid-1980s way, and the band just kept it going, the song cascading in multiple catchy layers over and over. It was a perfect moment, and i wanted the guitars and that supple beat to go on forever….
Robert Gray, on supple beats.
So, yes, this was another brilliant show. It was nothing like what i saw last time. In 2002 Wire were rested, back from hiatus, and furious at the world. They tore through a set with such passion and energy that i could hardly believe it was real. I didn't expect Wire to be able to do it again -- anyone who could maintain that much angst would have died of a heart attack in the intervening six years. So this time Wire were calmer, yet they played longer more textured songs. I guess that this was an introspective show from Wire, with long reflective songs. Which was just what i needed to be honest. How did they know?
In short, if you have the chance to see Wire, do so. Don’t hesitate, just go. I have no idea what they will be like at that point, but i would wager that you will enjoy it.