Wire plus Rule of Thirds and Bruff Superior in Adelaide

For those of you who don't know, it's Festival time here in the Little City, which means for all intents and purposes, most of us who live here keep well away.

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Jive, Adelaide
Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Little City (it's really a just an overgrown town, a bit like Morwell with Pitt Street aspirations (an aside: is that a good band name or LP name, Pitt Street Aspirations?) but because it was called a capital city it figures it's got something to live up to. So we have the tatty hollow known as Victoria Square, an expensive revamped Rundle Mall designed, apparently, exclusively for foreign students and 30-something non-smoking, non-drinking skateboarders who aren't allowed to use their boards in the Mall, massive traffic jams for the twentieth month...

And so, with the car race and Womad and hoards of over-excited tourists and foreign students and other things thinking they're interesting and exciting, you could be forgiven for thinking there just simply isn't anything else we could possibly fit in our already stuffed with excitement schedule...

Well as far as I'm concerned, Wire is my Festival, Fringe, car race, Womad etc all rolled into one. Why? Apart from 'cos they're that good', and the history lesson which accompanies, they make the sort of songs which are as engaging and absorbing as they are enigmatic and thrilling.

See, there are a lot more of us old geezers out there than the folks who remember the 90s and Zeroes (it would be lovely to remember the 2000s as the naughties but they were stagnant dishwater dull, so the Zeroes is how I think of them) and there are some bands, mostly older, who we'd cheerfully cross the country to see. Which is why, when you're doing a festival, if the organisers find a band or two that the geezers would happily shell out for, then that's a big chunk of your audience right there. Past BDO successes were due in no small part to Cave, Iggy, Kraftwerk, Neil Young, Beasts and younger outfits who, well, let's face it, who remembers Franz Ferdinand? Right now there's so much young talent while so many more tiresome characters clutter up the airwaves.

Someone commented recently that the BDO in particular had been aiming for the nostalgia for the '90s acts; thing was, there just weren't that many fab '90s acts. There were some great Japanese bands around that time, though; Puffy, anyone? And a festival with a full third of Japanese music/ culture could be stunning, it's never been tried anyway...

So the question for the geezers is: which bands/ events would I cross the country for - or go to a horrible festival when it's stinking hot and surrounded by squealing creatures - because the band don't tour - or have never toured - Aus that much?

Me? Try Suicide, Swans, Meat Puppets, Gary Numan, Nine Inch Nails, Boris, Crime and the City Solution, Wire, Kraftwerk, Iggy, R. Birdman, Beasts, PIL, Scientists, Helios Creed... these are all bands who continually move forward, never relying on retreading the hits. But there are those who don't mind a decent 'hits for grandad' act; Chrome still play occasionally, even though there's only one of the two main members alive. Could Albini be persuaded to revisit Big Black, or TV Smith the Adverts? Hell, the Sex Pistols? The Sonics, the Trashmen..? Marc Almond? Yoko? Local acts Leather Messiah, S-S and FAL would be rather fun to see on a side stage; as would Raygun Mortlock, Bitter Sweet Kicks, etc etc. It's a mix, innit?

Oh sure, there are other more awful acts from the '70s and '80s which I'm sure are also geezer drawcards ... I won't name them but for geezers who never listen to the radio anymore because it's so damn dull, we don't want to see a list of new exciting bands who aren't exciting. Do we have time for a quick digression? Good. I just want to say that '70s bands such as D**p P**ple should be extracted from the space-time continuum, removed to a remote Scottish island, inserted into a large mannikin made from wicker, and burned to their most useful components: carbon.

Ah, yes, speaking of unexciting. Remember that poker-up-the-arse, humourless graffiti in the 8ts, 'punks not dead', when you wished fervently that the leather-jacketed goldfish would just swim in another direction for once? Well, it seems that 'shoegazing's not dead', but in their laid-back, indolent voyeur style, they can't be bothered putting up the graffiti.

Bruff Superior have a rotten name and some half-decent songs. They have the haircuts, can't communicate or present themselves to the audience in any way. I have witnessed more entertaining rehearsals. They're either waiting for a Molly to come along and molest them or a bloke with a hairy chest and eight gold chains, an ankh medallion and a mood watch to drag them off to stardom and first-name terms with Justa Bilbo.

But ignoring the people in front of you ain't the way to get respect. I'm not interested in your introspection, nor am I impressed by your disinterest in your own songs. I spent their set amusing myself by comparing my friend's shoes, gurning with Bob Leertrousers, being playfully headbutted by S*** D***** and kicking TW A*** in the knackers. I may have appeared a bit of a twat, and probably not for the last time. But I was FUCKING BORED and I might add that my younger self would have been hurling bottles and abuse and might have mounted the stage to do something improbable with the guitar. The police were pretty amused last time, though. By contrast, the last gig I went to see the bottom of the bill blew away the headliners quite emphatically. The Bruffs need ambition.

Rule of Thirds have potentially a great sound. Some of their songs are pretty good. They have two guitarists, one who thinks he's better than he is (although he is good, he has a great sense of pace and when to hold back which is invaluable) and one who literally hid in a corner and was bloody brilliant, effortlessly in time and synced with the band - hardly ever glanced at the other members to see what they were playing, which really impressed. Also, it's the second guitarist and the keyboardist (with the Thomas Dolbyesque 'do and the chicken feet necklace) who create a second cushion for the first guitarist to shine over.

The first cushion is a punishing rhythm section; the bass player looks like a young John Holmes and the drummer looks like Fonzie's brother - the drummer was similarly clever in terms of setting and maintaining a simple, huge rhythm without being unnecessarily showy. These two got down to it and thundered along and, although Fonzie's bro looked about ready to expire during the last four songs, I won five dollars betting he'd survive. The singer, I think, needs to loosen up and get on top of performing. Overall, impressive, but not brilliant, though I will say anyone getting up on a stage these days (apart from shoegazers) deserves some sort of medal for flying in the face of the supine zeitgeist.

The Thirds broke their own kit down fast, and Wire themselves set their own up, all in less than 20 minutes. We're on a time limit here; Wire went on at 10 and had to be off by about 11.30 because ... the DJ starts at 12, and apparently that's where the real money is to be made... at least they didn't drag in pokie machines as well. We should be grateful.

Wire came from the same group of dissatisfied music lovers who were lucky enough to be just starting out when english punk went 'bluurgh'; the best of this new wave went against the obvious rules and found a new music. The first Siouxsie and the Banshees LPs, for example; the Buzzcocks and later, Magazine. Wire were right there in '77, thinking rightly that the Clash and the Damned had something which was appealing, but didn't like the way they went about it. To the average Clash, Pistols and Damned fan, Wire were far too peculiar, poppy even, for punk; to Britain's pop kids Wire were far too peculiar and punk for their tastes. They formed, or found, or something, however, a remarkable niche.

Wire's set list was:

Marooned/ Drill/ Doubles and Trebles/ Blogging/ Magic Bullet/ Smash/ Adore Your Island/ As We Go/ Please Take/ Another/ Map Ref/ Swallow/ Stealth of a Stork/ Attractive Space/ Harpooned//// Comet/ Spent

Lewis found the printed setlist too faint to read in the weird light, so walked back and wrote it all up in pen. I think he wanted to keep it as a souvenir. More on this later.

"Change Becomes Us", the new Wire CD, is apparently partly based on their earlier songs (around 1980) which they'd prepared for a new LP which never got much beyond writing and a few demos. So they've filtered their young selves through their more experienced selves and the result, "Change Becomes Us", is an elegant, exquisite triumph, particularly since their new member, Matthew Sims, is not just a ring-in but a proficient, in-sync man who not only completely gets Wire, he is an integral part of lifting them further. "Change Becomes Us" is a hell of a thing, gorgeous and ugly, beguiling. The deluxe edition comes with a rather lovely matching book, and there's another edition which comes with a guitar. Yes, you read that right.

Their previous two LPs, "Red Barked Tree" (original member Bruce Gilbert left and the others, Robert Grey (dr), Graham Lewis (bs and txt) and Colin Newman (gt and vox) decided to record as a three-piece, just to prove to themselves they could) and "The Black Sessions" - a sort of live in the studio document featuring Sims as part of the band for the first time - has, like many of their LPs, seriously radio-friendly tracks. And here I put up a warning hand. Some of Wire's songs are deceptively beautiful, delicate, squishy little organisms. Some, they're clearly trying to throttle the life out of you, then stamp on you and chuck you into an abyss.

Which is why, to some extent, Wire have always eluded the sort of stardom gifted to weepy puddings like The Cure or pointless nothings like Pearl Jam or C. Glove.

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They're perverse, too. Look at Newman. His Eastwood Airline guitars are the colour of a '50s mental institution's toilet and he's got an iPad wedged up against his mic stand. And yes, he uses it to play more music as well as reading Lewis' lyrics.

Live, Wire are fucking huge. So it was a pity the sound guy tonight didn't get everything sorted out until about the fourth song; it was only by the last six songs they sounded like they should've been sounding all night. It happens more and more these days, audiences don't seem to notice that the sound guy can't take into account that, with the addition of an audience, big slabs of thick wet meat, the sound is deadened. The empty room should not sound fantastic, it should sound weird. The bands should all walk on to titanic sound instead, and not just because the tickets are close to 50 bucks per head, but out of sheer fucking respect for the band. Hell, did Wire even get a sound-check? The sound for the supports appeared to be better than Wire's...

The astute among you will recognise a few pre-1980 songs. But not many. There are a few songs on the list which haven't been recorded yet; Harpooned was the one which even my fiance, who didn't enjoy them that much, really was dragged into, one of those extraordinary racketty jams which require the band to leave the stage so they can retune their guitars.

Lewis and Newman and Sims all have an absolute block of pedals, but their sound is so distinctive it's hardly surprising. Lewis plays bass like he wasn't taught how, sometimes allowing free strings to be struck or hum along with the actual chords and notes. Background.

Sims has the sort of hair the guitarist in the Cult (no, I can't remember his name either) might envy, but he has the sort of ability the guitarist in the Cult (see above) would envy. I can't emphasise this enough; if the man wasn't a Wire fan before joining, he's so much on their wavelength in terms of timing, acuity, direction... Wire remind me in turns of Can, Sydney's Dead Rabids, and the Swans... and each comparison is as ridiculous as it looks. Newman plays guitar in a very anti-guitar way... it's not coming from the blues-origin dark heart, nor the dance-for-no-tomorrow krautrock thing... like many in the new wave in England and a few in the US (like Robert Quine), Newman seems to have more-or-less taken his own road. He doesn't play 'rhythm' or 'lead', but he does lead.

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I must mention the brilliant precision of Robert Grey's drums. His eyes are shut for 95 percent of the set so, apart from looking a bit like a scrawny Buddha, the man is clearly locked into his rhythm, leaving Lewis to know when and how to react. Which he does. Lewis's bass is a strange hybrid thing, somewhere between sloppy and slack and absolutely on the money. Captivating; lyrical even, if that's not too daft.

In the gap between the set and the encore, Bob Leertrouser peeled off Lewis' handwritten set list. At the top was written 'birthday'. While the band were fiddling and about to do the encore, Leertrouser asked Lewis whose birthday it was. Lewis grinned and replied, rather shyly, 'Mine.' Hands were proffered, taken and shaken. Good egg.

Wire have been to Australia before, Sydney and Melbourne apparently. All I can say is I want to see them again. Often. I can only hope the promoter made enough to justify doing this again. What more can you say about a band who overcame sound problems, got on with it, played brilliant songs which most of the audience didn't recognise but had them all utterly connected and excited, and leaving me wanting to grab everything they'd ever done all over again, twice, and play it loud as soon as I got home?

Us old geezers had big fuck-off smiles all over our faces. We were fucking rapt.

Wire on the Web


Robert Brokenmouth

Tags: punk, live, wire, lewis, newman, sims

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