Music, in case you hadn’t read the memo, is as much about tribalism as anything else. Some music – like gospel, Welsh close-harmony singing – brings people together. Others, such as the massed choirs of football fans, or genres like Emo and Oi, are as much about separating a group of people from their peers. The reunions of The Pixies and Pavement brought a tribe of people together that had been busy getting on in life as middle managers and thrust them back to their sweaty, confused adolescence and made them rejoice in their lost youth; and unambigous pleasure in these brittle days.
So where does that leave a band like Wire? A band who, in the late seventies, did as much to change modern music as anyone you could care to mention? A band who took punk and twisted it, adding odd little tunes and a bloodyminded cleverness that’s been the template for middle-class rebellion ever since? A band who showed the way out of the straitjacket of three-chord thrashes and anger and guided everyone, however unwillingly, toward post-punk? In a half-empty Garage, that’s where.
The tribe here is balding, greying, and largely a-paunched. I feel young, which is a rare experience for me these days. And this is a band that’s setting up their own rig. Whether this is part of their infamous curmudgeonness or the aged’s way of never spending a penny1 when it can be avoided, but you must wonder if they think to themselves “Shit, I never thought I’d still be doing this after 34 years. Still, at least the crowd aren’t spitting at us these days”. Only because if we tried we’d run the risk of losing our dentures.
And the band are on marvellously belligerent mood. Aside from a number of disparaging comments about our “Mojo” (the night being sponsored by Mojo magazine, who quite frankly would have run a mile from this lot back in the late ’70’s, clutching their Rush albums), the general atmosphere is that the band started out being sarcastic fuckers, and they aren’t going to stop now they’ve grown up a bit. Or a lot. Frankly, it’s refreshing. So many of our heroes have reformed and are gushing with pleasure at the whole affair that there is a certain amount of joy to be had when a band comes along that looks like they’d rather take us up the nearest alley, do unspeakably nasty things to us then give us a good shoeing.
The crowd are more than happy to heckle. On introducing their rather young and hirsute replacement guitarist, Matt, someone yells “He’s nicked all your hair!”. The rest of the band pretend to ignore this. Requests are met with shakes of the head and the occasional sarcastic comment, ending in “These requests? It’s just general British blokes shouting. “OI OI OI””. After opening with a new song, the response from the crowd is positive, and met with “Your reward is another new song”. Charmed, I’m sure.
Of course there’s a huge amount of pantomine to this. You can tell they are loving being up there, and the fact that their set features a healthy number of tracks from their initial triumvate of records shows that. This is, of course, the band that took a covers band as support on a tour in the 80’s, so they wouldn’t have to play any of their old material themselves. You don’t see Oasis doing that (not that you’d notice, but hey ho). Age certainly hasn’t calmed the early tracks either; they tear through “106 Beats That” and “12XU” like they were at the 100 Club; only the sight of Graham Lewis wearing glasses with those stringy bits brings you back to the present.
Crowd-pleasing came in the form of “Kidney Bingos”, prompting something of a singalong, but didn’t extend to “Outdoor Miner” (boo!), despite a number of increasingly desperate pleas. “Map Ref. 41N 93W” does feature, thankfully, and we should be thankful there’s some old songs thrown in amongst the new material.
Live staple “Drill” was a well-drilled (sorry) motorik chug, “German Shepherds” was another well-chosed gem from their most tuneful period, and “One Of Us” showed they’ve lost nothing of their anger in their newer songs; like the other new tracks on display tonight, they definitely hark back to their 70’s period rather than to the mid-80’s records like “A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck”. Which is a shame for me, since that’s the era that I most like. Yes, I know that’s not the common wisdom, but what do I care?
Four encores later, off went the Wire tribe into the night, warmed through to their core with the shared memory of singing that immortal chorus to “Kidney Bingos”, “Money spines, paper lung\Kidney bingos organ fun”. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This lot don’t need new tricks; the old ones still blow the young kids away. Just a shame there weren’t more of them here to see how it’s properly done.
1 Stop sniggering at the back.