As the post-punk veterans provide a blistering set at The Kazimier, Getintothis’ Chris Burgess makes sense of the wonderful contradictions at hand.
Being in his mid-30s, this writer finds it a novel rarity to be one of the younger members of a crowd these days. The average age of the audience assembled to see the angular, post-punk band was a good ten years older at least.
Despite their drummer being a good ten foot higher than anyone else in the building, the band’s innocent, shifting and wispy sound was glorious, with their excellent bassist Emily providing some sublime, Minutemen-esque riffs.
Their set standout was Evil Leather Jacket, a stop-start song that you can’t help being drawn in by, a fantastically intriguing start to the night.
Tomaga followed up with an multi-instrumental set of monumental proportions, serving up a sonic soundscape that filled the venue.
Starting their set like a duo stranded on a desert island with only a broken radio and set of drums, the experimental noise-jazz sounds that followed were quite extraordinary.
Tom Relleen’s spaced-out synth and bass loops, replete with bangs, bashes and clangs were backed magnificently by Valentina Magaletti’s impeccable drumming.
It’s incredibly difficult to accurately describe the mountainous sound Tomaga produce. The closest we can get is comparing it to the soundtrack to a slow motion submarine crash, as metallic drones and pulsating bass notes smashed against the Kazimier’s walls. The crowd, perplexed at first, quickly bought in to the duo’s cinematic soundscapes.
Anticipation then grew for Wire, as their intro music grew louder and more intense before the foursome took to the stage.
With minimal fuss or crowd interaction, drummer Robert Grey launched the band into a blistering set full of melodically jagged, razor-sharp art punk tunes.
Colin Newman, slim, bespectacled and looking a good twenty years younger than he actually is, looks up for this gig, scraping his aquamarine guitar and wringing every last note from its hefty body.
Opening with a pulsating salvo of tracks – including the zeitgeist-capturing Blogging – Newman’s daydreamer-like vocals perfectly encapsulate the band’s overall shimmering, metallic delivery.
Famously eschewing their very early work – hits such as Outdoor Miner, I Am the Fly and 12XU – the band concentrate fully on driving forward, with a large part of their set taken from their recently released eponymous album – their fourteenth.
There is still some small room for nostalgia though – 1991’s Drill providing one of the many set highlights, its monotone, drone-like melody and persistent rhythm boring its way into your skull, building to a frenzy.
Bassist Graham Lewis takes vocal duties on the rock n roll stomper Mekon Headman and the poppy, bittersweet In Manchester, his softer voice complementing the latter’s shuffling pace perfectly.
In typically contrary fashion, the band follow this up with Sleep-Walking a dark, brooding and almost industrial tune, with ‘new boy’ Matthew Simms creating howls of feedback and squeal from his guitar and pedals.
A world away from the undersized tracks on which Wire built their name, Sleep-Walking was a slow-paced monster, almost ten minutes long, obtuse yet hypnotic and enrapturing.
The band, consistently changing gears, then launch into the wistful Shifting, another from their recent album. It’s almost as though they delight in unsteadying their audience, pulling the rug from beneath their feet.
There’s so much variation between each of the songs on their set, from the frenetic Stealth of a Stork to the jangly Octopus, that they don’t allow their audience to settle.
But despite the differences between tunes, there are constants. Namely the massive wall of sound that Wire produce and the fact that these four men work together so tightly as musicians that it seems supernatural at times.
Just when you think you’ve got a handle on them, and understand their wilfully confounding variations, they drop yet another bombshell, ending the first part of their set with one of the best performances of any song that this writer has seen in a live setting.
It’s hard to keep an audience’s attention for the entire length of a 10 minute long song, let alone one that hinges on two chords and a huge crunch of distortion, yet that’s what the band achieve with Harpooned, the closer from their recent album.
“I set fire to the kitchen, the damage was bad/I sat down by the fountain, went quietly mad” Newman sings, as controlled chaos rings around him. Grey’s snare is hooked up with so much reverb that each slow beat is still ringing out clearly as the next one is hit.
The song’s droning layers, along with Newman’s emotional lyrics and delivery, build to a huge crescendo of noise. That’s when you realise you’re seeing something more than just the usual gig – you’re witnessing a band’s masterpiece being played out in front of you.
It was the single heaviest, most fierce song this writer has ever witnessed – from a list of bands that includes Slayer and Sabbath. Harpooned is an apt title, as the song is truly leviathan-esque, a truly remarkable beast. It was one of those extra-special Kazimier moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The band then disappear, giving us just enough time to get our breath back and compose ourselves.
For their encore, the band continue to twist the audience’s brain. Directly contradicting the meaty, loping and long new tune performed before the break, they drop the 40-second long Brazil from their seminal 1977 album Pink Flag, one of the rare throwbacks to their early material.
It’s not often that a band can get away with playing less than a minute of their most popular album, yet there’s a real feeling of affection towards the band for this nod toward their past. As if to say to the older fans expecting classics “hey, we haven’t forgotten about you, we’ve just moved on to newer things”
Adore Your Island follows, an anthemic, almost stadium-rock song, with opening chords reminiscent of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. The track kind of sums the entire night up, the slow verses interspersed with a faster-than-lightning punk rock chorus, with Simms’ guitar playing one note repeated throughout.
The band wrap up with superb runthroughs of Used To and Spent, and the crowd leave supremely happy and thoroughly entertained. Lewis even takes the time to say farewell to the venue itself, a nice touch,
The youngsters in the crowd have taught a real lesson in musicianship, the older crowd have relived their youth to some degree. There was a real sense of camaraderie as fans chatted to each other after the show, revealing a broad array of accents.
Wire as musicians – as a concept even – are a bucketful of contradictions, deliberately so. Their set was full of songs both dark and light, heavy and wistful, old and new, long and short, fast and slow.
They know this, and they play their hand perfectly.
Photos by Getintothis’ Martin Waters