all words: William Alberque
all photos: Mindy Barrett
When I first heard the announcement about the tour, I wasn’t not sure if Weekend were an inspired choice to tour with Wire, or a diabolical one. Having seen the show, I’m leaning towards diabolical, with Weekend far exceeding their material live, and Wire failing to live up to their strongest album in years. This is a shame, because I was predisposed to love Wire no matter what they did, and regarded Weekend somewhat skeptically.
I had low expectations for Weekend live. I’d bought the album based on the hype (and the marvelously ambiguous) album cover; but did not warm to it. The album has glimmers of quality, but is very uniform in sound, slathered in overdubbed effects, and, on first listen, slightly trying. And, they rather rudely co-opted the name of Allison Statton’s amazing post Young Marble Giants project for their band-name (download “Nostalgia”).
Live, the San Francisco three piece were fantastic, finding far more melody and nuance in the songs. The hazy, woozy, stapled on sound effects that intrude on songs like Coma Summer are gone live, leaving an excellent, razor-sharp shoegaze tune. Stripped to their essentials, the songwriting comes to the fore, and each track yielded an unexpected treasure-trove of pop hooks.
In short, Weekend were shockingly good live, and I’d recommend for their next recorded material, they stop hiding their excellent songwriting chops behind a veil of pointless noise.
The audience were not here for Weekend, though, as evidenced by the late arrival of most folks. As with Wedding Present, the average age in the room kept climbing as the set time for Wire drew near.
And what to expect? The last two times I saw them live were at the 930 Club: May 2000 with their first reunion tour on the excellent Third Day ep; and September 2002 with Read and Burn 01. Both tours were revelatory, with the original line-up of Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert, and Robert Gotobed (now using his real name, Robert Grey). It was incredible seeing the band, back on tour, playing with muscular, buzzing anger – the revisited versions of Pink Flag and Mercy were a revelation live.
Several years on, guitarist Bruce Gilbert has returned to his retirement, with Margaret Fielder-McGinnis (Moonshake, Laika) taking his place on their previous tour, and Matt Sims (It Hugs Back) filling in this time. The new album, Red Barked Tree, is brilliant – another excellent addition to Wire Mk 3’s discography, following 2008’s Object 47.
Live, however, the songs are drowned in a set that’s adrift somewhere between nostalgia and iconoclasm, between a desire to sound new and play the old favorites. But there’s something else wrong with the sound tonight. I’m not sure if I can lay the blame at Sims’ feet (or his cheekily out-of-place long hair), but this simply is not the outfit that came through in 2000 or 2002. Wire seems almost listless, relying on overly-compressed guitar noise to lend an urgency that is simply not there. Even the drums sound tinned, though I see Robert Grey metronomically pounding away. Graham looks ridiculous, hamming it up in a ridiculous hat, and Colin looks like a schoolteacher, slightly lost.
Wire starts off with their set with Comet from Read and Burn, and run through a set with a mixture of the old and the new. Surprisingly, Map Reference 41°N 93°W makes and appearance, and it sounds good, but Newman omits some of the marvelous cheekiness of the original (how could he not deliver that “Chorus”??). Other Wire Mk 1 songs included Two People in a Room, 106 Beats That, and Pink Flag (which, in this incarnation, fits more under Wire Mk 3) – strange choices, considering there are three albums and a plethora of bsides to chose from. Wire Mk 2 made its appearance, with Advantage in Height, Silk Skin Paws, Kidney Bingos, Boiling Boy, and Drill. Both my favorites from Red Barked Tree are here – Adapt and Bad Worn Thing – but they really do suffer live compared to the album.
Of course, for fans, there were always going to be disappointments and favorite tracks omitted. Who wouldn’t want to hear Outdoor Miner or 12XU or Ahead? But it really was the performance that let me down. This was exactly the type of Wire live show I did not want to see – the kind that made me want to have a quiet word of advice and ask them to pack it in. It breaks my heart to say it, but it’s time to call full time on Wire Mk 3. Thanks for the memories, guys, let’s not ruin it.