Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wire / Talk Normal / Chicks Dig Jerks DJ’s @ HMV Institute, Tuesday 15th November

You wait years for legendary post punk bands to come along and then two play the same venue in the space of a week. Yep, hot on the heels of Magazine this week’s heroes of the post punk scene are Wire, arguably even more influential than Devoto and co. First up though relative newcomers Brooklyn no wavers Talk Normal. Drummer Andrya Ambro and bassist Sarah Register have been tickling the sweet spots of hipsters for a couple of years now with their raw as an open wound sound and primal skin pounding. Tonight was no exception with tracks crashing into each other to form one continuous thump round the ears. Quite how they keep up the furious momentum without bursting into flames is a mystery. Some years ago the venerable Kaiser Chiefs predicted a riot...this is what it would sound like.

Wire always seemed to revel in shifting styles and tonight’s set was true to form, stopping off at punk rock, post punk, post rock, Krautrock and all stations in between courtesy of tracks torn from most of their albums. We had most of the original band here tonight too, with just Bruce Gilbert missing in action, his place taken by Matt Simms who was obviously tickled pink (Flag) to be there judging by the expression of sheer joy that spread across his face throughout the gig. I’d not seen the band before, given that their last Birmingham gig was over 30 years ago (at Barbarellas apparently) perhaps that's not a huge surprise. In many ways they’re an odd proposition. Lead vocalist Colin Newman looked a little like he’d turned up to deliver a presentation on the Bauhaus movement (1919-1933), with his Apple i-pad fixed on a stand in front of him to remind him of some of the lyrics. Graham Lewis has a touch of grizzled bulldog about him, well and truly adding the punk element to the mix by growling and yelping into the mic at odd intervals and stamping angrily on his FX pedals joined up by, appropriately enough, a tangle of wires. Meanwhile the metronomic Robert Gotobed provided the beats on the drums...although he started off by distractedly tapping against the metal stand of his symbol for the whole of the first track (Believer?). Newman’s not the strongest vocalist out there and it was difficult to make out all of the lyrics in amongst the sonic assault but since when has punk been about chin stroking eh? What you do get from a Wire gig is a rare glimpse of some of the original building blocks behind everyone from REM and The Cure to Blur and Henry Rollins. Capable of giving it a full on punk thrash one minute then knob twiddling wibblyness the next (sometimes in the same song) it’s an intense experience but, buried beneath it all are some killer riffs too which went on to give, amongst others Brit Poppers Elastica pretty much their whole career. Pick of the set included an ear shredding rendition of Drill with Newman firing questions at us like Paxman on speed and the fractured jangle of Map Ref 41°N 93° W which surely went on to influence REM’s distinctive sound. The new stuff stood up pretty well too, with Moreover (from this year’s Red Barked Tree album) seeing Newman’s trademark stream of lyrics in full flow against a bit of a twisted My Sharona meets Rocket From The Crypt’s On A Rope style riff.

Much of the set was short on chat. In fact they didn’t say a word until the encore when Lewis informed us that “If anyone asks for I Am The Fly...they’re fucking dead”. Someone, wisely someone standing at the back, did so prompting a wry smile from him. Happily he decided against beating the joker to death with his bass...for now at least. Clearly Wire ain’t the kind of band that takes requests. I’m guessing they’re not available for kiddies parties neither. They did give us Boiling Boy though, perhaps not the most obvious choice to kick off the encore. At over 6 minutes long it’s a hypnotising slow burn of a track which takes a while to get going but then, when it does, you don’t want it to stop. A krautpunk (if such a thing exists) classic. Thirty five years on from their debut Wire remains as barbed and individual as ever.

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