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Three Songs No Flash

On Returning: Wire Mk III Define & Refine In London
Luke Turner , June 9th, 2010 12:35

With a new guitarist in tow, Wire take to the stage at London's Garage to unleash the latest chapter in their shock pop odyssey. Wire live pic thanks to Ralf Ziegermann

Wire have a new song called 'Please Take'. It progresses via a summation of all the music they've ever made, post-punk, lo-fi, electronic pop, the lot, until it abruptly ends with a double-barrelled vocal from Colin Newman and Grahams Lewis: "FUCK YOU". Old habits die hard.

Tonight's Garage gig is part of the Mojo Honours awards season, which sees bands being given gongs for Significant Work. All well and good, but from the off, Wire aren't here to let off a canonical salute to their past. "This song has a connection between road kill and potatoes" says Graham Lewis (short sleeves, black shirt, tie tucked in, glasses on string) before Wire's first track, and the first of the new material played; "It's called 'Smash'". After rapturous applause follows it, he says: "Thank you. Your reward is another new song". And so it goes on, the early part of Wire's set drawn largely from an as-yet-untitled new album that, in light airs and hints of the pretty reverb and melodies of their 1980s material, suggests a poppier progression from the snarl and bluster of last LP, Object 47.

This is (live at least, he's not on the record) due in no small part to the efforts of new guitarist Matt Simms (black shirt, long hair) who knows just when to add those few key notes into Wire's curiously constructed songs, and seems to be responsible for lurid gurgles of electronics that occasionally make themselves felt. This is very different from Wire live post-Object 47, when dense fury was the order of the day. Of the mid-period Wire, 'Drill' is drawn out so far that the black and white DNA staccato is almost drawn out to moody oceanic grey; contrastingly 'Kidney Bingos' sees Lewis ending with vocal exertions as if he was a roadie exercising a stadium PA. Another new track would please those members of the Sonic Youth fanbase who know how to button up a proper shirt. Yet another, called 'A Flat Tent', has a chipperness that makes it the best song that Blur forgot to write for the Wire-indebted Modern Life Is Rubbish, their only decent album.

Also inevitable, and amusing, is how much this winds up certain elements of the audience. There is, of course, a swearing fat man bouncing around shouting "gerrronnwivvviiit" because he's "fackin' bored" - waiting 12 songs for a track from Wire's 1970s trilogy. Handily, that's when '106 Beats That' drops in, and his exertions sends whiffs of sweat (40% lager) in our direction. Someone else shouts for 'Outdoor Miner', as they have done throughout the set. It isn't played, despite being one of the finest songs written by anyone in those inventive years at the dying end of the 70s when there was supposed to be a new paradigm of pop and art but all we ended up with was this lousy Clash t-shirt

For Wire kept - and keep - thinking, and us on our toes. Robert Gotobed (black vest, few smiles) might be a brutal machine behind the drums, but you still get the impression that Wire never learned to play their instruments proficiently. Instead, they learned to play them proficiently together, whoever the New Bruce Gilbert might be (and let it be said again that Matt Simms is very, very good). Wire are tight and hard, funnny and sharp, anti-nostalgia yet playful with their past. They even endure the more Luddite of their fans - as Newman cheekily retorts to the crowd before one of the encores, "these requests? It's just general British blokes shouting".

The internet was supposed to help bands like Wire, turning an inquisitive new generation onto music that influenced anything from minimal electronics to US hardcore (who neglected Wire's humour) and electroclash (who perhaps took too much of it) to REM to industrial. Of course it didn't work like that, and Wire are just another of those groups with a couple of tracks on everyone's long iPod millwheel scroll, '12XU' 'I Am The Fly' and that's your lot before the drunken dance to the Joy Division song that everybody knows. Those young and fresh ears that Wire need and deserve to play to aren't here, so it's just the bloke shouting "DO IT" with such intensity that it's as if he's staring into the barrels of a firing squad delayed by a faulty breech. There's an encore (Lewis again saying "your reward is another new song") before Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Gotobed, Matt Simms put the shouty bloke out his misery with the '12XU'-bore BLAST. It's over... but with Wire, that always means it's only just beginning.