26th Sept 2013
All photos © Alex Staszko
Wire are so full of brilliant and beautiful contradictions that if it wasn’t for the brilliance of their music you would spend all night unpicking them. The gig at Gorilla was a hypnotic and brilliant affair and it’s only hours later that my mind is beginning to unravel the night.
1. Wire are the almost perfect pop band who wilfully twist their great songs to an anti pop. They employ false endings, sudden switches in sound, awkward sections & bits of noise – this is the stuff of genius for the Wire fan and, I imagine, the reason that they get to play packed small clubs and the people who copy them end up in stadiums. Oddly though it also makes them sound even more pop – not Cowell pop but a distant descendent of the maverick sixties pop of the Beatles and many others and the now dying art school tradition of British pop, where a cool sound and neat twist were as treasured as a chorus. In the modern world pop has been reduced to a wiggling arse, but Wire remember that it could be about so much more and if that makes them seem weird that says more about the modern world than it does about Wire.
2. Lots of old bands play the hits. I have no problem with this. But Wire just play what they want, whatever creates a great set list and whatever suits them. They can get away with this, of course, because whatever they play sounds great. For every Wire classic that they miss out -for every Reuters, Outdoor Miner or I Am The Fly- they have another gem to slot in, whether they are off a current album or stuff not even recorded yet- Wire is a work in process and not a museum piece.
3. Rober Gototobed. For his name alone he would be on any list. In them old punk days we thought that this was his punk name, like some sort of take on Sid Vicious or Captain Sensible, but it turns out that this is his real name and that scores even more points. He also looks great, like some sort of drummer monk lost deep in concentration, eyes shut and face serene yet deep in thought as he plays the perfect minimalist beat, that clicking hi hat and those tight rolls that are so much part of the Wire sound. He once replaced himself with a drum machine and was out of the band. Modern Wire would never do this as no drum machine could be this crisp or perfect.
4. The way Colin Newman sings Graham Lewis’s lyrics. This is the great disconnect in Wire and what gives them their addictive, altered edge and it must come from this point. Colin writes the music and shoehorns Graham’s great obtuse lyrics in to the melodies. He doesn’t even know what he’s singing about sometimes. This should really not work but it adds to the band’s sound as Colin peers at his iPad clipped onto a stand to remind himself of the lyrics and sings them in his very English, very Syd Barrett “early days of English psych” voice.
5. Wire’s songs are so full of ideas that any young band should immerse themselves in their music for a few weeks. Every guitar line, every bass run is loaded with melody and meaning. Typical of all the bands emerging in the early days of so called post punk there was no lead instrument, everything was utilised in the then new music to create a perfect soundscape where your ear could follow any line and enjoy the clashes in sound.
6. No matter how much they deny it Wire are a punk band. Of course punk has such a different meaning now that this would baffle the modern fan and the band but for some of us they define everything about what we thought punk was.
Growing up in Blackpool you didn’t get to see bands like Wire, you just had their records. Their debut 1977 release, Pink Flag, was one of the albums we owned and loved. We had never heard guitars so dense or songs that were so short or fast. By not being punk Wire had somehow ended up out-punking the rest of the gang. It’s no wonder they became the template band for American hardcore in the eighties, the metronomic drumming and the concrete wall of sound guitars and fast yelping songs were what we all thought punk was meant to sound like.
7. It would be fairer to say that Wire are ‘not rock ‘n’ roll’ instead of ‘not punk’. There is no blues progression here, punk was an attempt to rewrite the rules and Wire not only rewrote the rules they re-WIRED the machine. They also re-wrote the punk rule book whilst they were at it…
8. Colin Newman’s almost funky guitar moves. Wire are not showmen, that’s not the point, but they have their own innate coolness. They may look like university professors and have that very dry English demeanour about them but when the music starts to crank Colin does this twitchy little neo-dance thing that actually looks pretty cool, new guitar man Matthew Simms with his youthful good looks, his lank long hair looks oddly like a post punk pin up guitar hero as he counter-plays against Colin’s guitar parts. Somehow this makes sense as well.
9. The two guitar interplay is so crucial to the bands sound. The guitars often play opposite parts from each other. This is very Wire, no opportunity is wasted to create tension and release or to have two opposite melodies at the same time or to have one guitar doing a spindly bit and the other to scratch against it. There is no aimless thrashing in Wire.
10. Wire have never dated. They sound as fresh now as they ever did, even fresher. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sounding dated of course. Music is music and it can touch you on so many levels, but there is something fascinating about the mindset of a band that can still keep every component part of their sound sounding so crisp and perfect and intense after so long instead of the dull thud of churning it out for the pin money. They have also added a keyboard player to the live line up which makes sense as their use of synths over the years has been as key as their use of endless guitar pedals – all seeking to remould the guitar or textures of rock into something else.