PIAF - Wire - Chevron Gardens 24/02/14
Why is a set by one of the world's most famous punk bands only two-thirds full? The back half of the seated area at festival gardens is blacked-out by curtains and there's a totally reasonable explanation for it. And it's not just because Wire are too under the radar to sell. The bulk of the fans of Wire, especially the 45-plus crew that populated this show are not so much fans of Wire as they are of their songs from 1977-1979, when they were still nominally the artsiest of the British post-punk bands.
Since then they've gone through a few different definitions: The Electronic Snakedrill (1986) era is good but not fondly remembered, though the compilation 1985-1990: The A-List is essential, and their most recent work has often devolved into longform prog jams. Not a surprise, given they're art-school wankers seeking to formalise music (post-punk, neo-disco, hard rock) that other bands simply write three chords and a hook for. The crowd at this show were certainly not, by and large, prepared for this repertoire, which largely came from the period in the 2000s when drummer Robert Grey (nee Gotobed) returned to the band.
Speaking of Robert Grey (nee Gotobed), his sharp driving sixteenths on the kit were the highlight of the set.
If Wire had advertised a Pink Flag tribute/memorial tour they'd be selling this joint out and headlining arts festivals like this. Their live shows are maybe the worse for it, lacking the kind of fan interaction that setting craves; a victim of Colin Newman (guitar/vocals) and Graham Lewis' (bass/vocals) constant invention. Wire have never really gone away, so fans have never been clamouring for a return.
As it stands the performance itself is a mixed bag. The set largely draws on recent material, the best of which is 'Adore Your Island', a stomping prog number with hardcore punk breaks that just slayed the front row full of millenials that discovered Wire through the magic of internet forums. It comes from 2013's Change Becomes Us, maybe Wire's best of the last ten years. The encore (despite only a measured call for one from the audience) was a barnstormer, with 2003's 'Send' and 'Spent' (Send) delivering their most impassioned performances, ending with a long Tangerine Dream-esque outro of layered synth and iPad apps.
What lay in between largely drew blanks. '23 Years Too Late' from the Read and Burn 03 EP (2007) was an early harbinger of the slow, rote prog that was to come, something that didn't translate well to an audience of old punkers desperately craving a reason to mosh one more time. This period in their history is referred to by Robert Christgau as them “getting the grays”, something highlighted by their maudlin expressions and vague references to being alienated by the new generation (“sell it on Ebay”, Colin Newman howls in one number).
It's not bad music though, and the result is a show that deserves both praise and criticism: Wire should be credited for continuing to create meaningful, original content almost 40 years since their first performances, and for their technical acuity and devotion to their craft. However, if they choose to favour their punk roots more in live performance (from their “classic period” and in newer songs like 'Adore Your Island', which was fucking great), they'll find themselves a more memorable and unmissable act in the future.