So, I've been on the fringes of being a fully flown fan for nearly thirty years, and I'm fully aware of their enormous influence on so many bands that I admire, though I've never been a completist or even someone massively familiar with their back catalogue but when my friend Stuart asked me if I fancied joining him and regular TADS walker Pam on Friday night to see them at the Highbury Garage I jumped at the chance. A meal in the redoubtably cheap, and tasty, Chapel Market Indian Vegetarian beforehand only further cemented my decision.
Over the years they've flirted with poppier and more electronic sounds whilst always keeping one and a half feet in their post-punk background. They've even started to chuck a few slightly longer, pub rock influenced even, tracks into their usual oeuvre of short, sharp shocks. Their debut album, Pink Flag, had six songs that weighed in at less than a minute. Field Day for the Sundays didn't stick around for any longer than 28 seconds.
Before Wire, Brighton four piece Cold Pumas were on. To make me feel light on my feet after a belly full of curry is no mean trick and they pulled it off with some panache. Their singing drummer, Patrick Fisher, pounded out a neat motorik beat over which he intoned in a stentorian vocal style, that owed no small debt to Ian Curtis, whilst being flanked by his brother Oliver and Dan Reeves who each coaxed woozy, Sonic Youthesque, 'cathedrals of sound' from their guitars. Watching Reeves in action, punctuating his Neu style Dingerbeats with airy fills became something of a fascination. Cold Pumas are at least two albums deep into their career but they'd hitherto eluded me (and therefore I know none of the song titles). I'm sorry to be late to the game. They're very good.
Wire, however, are 41 years into their career but they've kept the weight off - both literally and metaphorically. Colin Newman and Graham Lewis make great counterpoints to each other. Similar to The Go-Betweens Robert Forster and Grant McLennan one looks svelte and bookish and the other more rounded and earthy. Newman (or Forster) look like they'd kick back with a glass of Barolo and a slim volume of Baudelaire whilst Lewis (or McLennan) would appear more at home with a can and a bbq. Newman mentioned going to see Michael Chapman the previous work and Lewis did an impression of some "bloody difficult woman" who it's been hard to escape of late.
Of course, appearances are deceptive and this band wouldn't have continued, successfully and critically acclaimed, for so long if they didn't play off each other so well and be it in their grinding, churning art-rock numbers like the eight minute long set closer Harpooned (which could fit nearly an entire side of an early Wire album inside it), the pop thrash delights of Three Girl Rhumba (back off loan from Elastica) and Used To), the 80s/90s pop stylings of opener Ahead, Small Black Reptile, and Over Theirs, or even stuff from their new Silver/Lead album (Diamonds In Cups, An Alibi) they come across as the old hands they now are. To the point that Newman's Kindle (propped up in front of him, presumably to prompt him if he forgot any lyrics) looked incongruously modern.
I would've loved for them to have played Outdoor Miner, Dot Dash, or Mannequin but to hear Art of Persistence, Keep Exhaling, and Underwater Experiences was delightful enough. To watch Lewis imbue his basic bassline with abstracted funk flourishes and to hear him & Newman spit out their arch poetic diatribes in those London urchin accents with almost as much as passion as they would've done back in 1976 was enough to send me back to Highbury & Islington tube contented.