I feel like an aimless ramble today. I have a backlog of releases I could talk about - there's always a backlog of releases - and perhaps one day I'll get to those discs by Rev. Charlie Jackson, Adolescents, John Zorn, Joe Houston, Yusef Lateef, Die Kreuzen, Milton Nascimento et al, or perhaps a roundup of some '90s zines worth a revisit, but it won't be today. I don't want this blog to simply be a consumer advice column for music nerds. The last week has been the busiest in a while, a situation brought on by the fact that I just turned 39 two days ago and actually celebrated the occasion in somewhat of a quarter-arsed fashion, and also due to the fact that I caught Wire play at the Corner Hotel to a packed crowd (must've been roughly six- or seven-hundred people there) a few days prior. I don't get out that much these days, so when I do, I like to make it count. Wire played here six years ago at the same venue. They sounded like a different band then. Back in 2005, they came out on stage like a gang, confronting the audience with attitude and contempt, or at least that was the way I perceived them. They looked like four intimidating old geezers who didn't give a fuck. They tore through their set like a young hardcore band. They only played tracks from Send, then their latest release, leaving any older tracks (always from the first three LPs) to be played during the encore. When I was informed beforehand that that was the way the show would be played out, I expressed disappointment. I hadn't heard the latest album, and frankly, wasn't really interested. Sometimes veterans just have to accept the fact that people are really only interested in their early material. If the Rolling Stones played a concert and solely concentrated on their woeful post-1983 works, there'd be a riot. Wire managed to buck all (diminished) expectations by playing their latest album with an aggression, force and commitment usually reserved for bands half their age. I still haven't heard Send, but if it's half as good as the way they played it in 2005, I probably should. Ironically, of all bands, the one they reminded me of the most was Minor Threat, a band obviously heavily influenced by Wire, and perhaps Wire were returning the favour. There was minimal chat, just short/fast/loud rock & roll. By the time they got around to playing tracks off the likes of Pink Flag and Chairs Missing - albums born of genius few others can ever touch - I didn't really care. I knew not a single song they'd played up until then, and it was all brilliant. When I check my hazy memory, I can still rate it up there as one of the top 5 shows I've witnessed in this life, right up there w/ Love, Neil Young and that venue-destroying set by Testicle Candy all those years ago at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy (that last one isn't a joke, and anyone who witnessed it will never forget it).
And so now it's 2011 and Wire are back. My gig expenditure for 2011 has been spent, at least for the first half of the year: Wire, Swans, Hawkwind. I attended Wire this time w/ trepidation, not wanting to sour the good memories. Nothing was soured, though nothing was particularly gained, either. They (apparently) only played tracks from their recently-released full-lengther, Red Barked Tree, and things started a little soft. Not soft as in lame, but I've always felt it necessary for bands to own the stage from the get-go by starting the show w/ their most powerful statement. Even if it's not fast or "heavy", it should be forceful. The band sleptwalked through the first half-hour. I listened in great depth to the songs, and I was impressed by what I heard. They were quieter and more subtle than some of their more infamous, aggressive tunes, but still unmistakably Wire, complete w/ strange guitar and electronics effects throughout. Bruce Gilbert is now missing - a fact which bummed a few of my compadres out - but I was willing to cut the band some slack with 3/4s of the original lineup, and I'm more than willing to cut Gilbert the slack since he's now a man entering his mid 60s. And that's not mentioning the fact that his replacement, young enough to be the son of any of the other members, did his job well. Bassist Graham Lewis still looks like the most threatening member on stage, swinging the bass neck around and hunching over whilst plucking out meaty notes like a young Tracey Pew, and Colin Newman's vocals have held up well and he strangely possesses the onstage aura of a frustrated bank clerk moonlighting in a rock & roll band. Robert Gotobed hits his skins on time and with great force: what else does one require from a drummer? By halfway through the set I found myself getting restless and spent the next 40 minutes chatting away to the usual assortment of old heads one bumps into at such a show. The encore grabbed my attention and had me shutting my mouth for a smattering of early tracks, all of which were played with a true sense of purpose and closed the night on a high note. I didn't dislike the show by a long shot, but to put it in perspective I'll say this: six years ago, I couldn't have cared less whether they played anything from the first three LPs, the core of the set nailing it so well that a trip down memory lane almost seemed like an afterthought. I sensed that w/ last week's show that the audience was craving some of their "hits" after an hour's worth of seemingly OK new material, and they were delivered to quench that thirst. The first time around, that wasn't needed.
Well, shit, that was the last thing I intended to do, but I guess I just wrote a review of a rock band.