Academy 2, Manchester
3rd May 2008
3rd May 2008
My first thought as the opening note of Wire's headline performance at Manchester's Futuresonic Festival rings out: 'Can someone please turn the lights down'. The guitars might be appropriately angular and the rhythms suitably taut, but there’s nothing quite like the sight of a bass player in a muscle shirt and a beanie to destroy any notion of perceived artrock austerity. My second thought: ‘this sounds terrible’. Vocalist Colin Newman's vocals are barely audible beneath the indefinable reverberant din of the band, and listening to the sound man desperately trying to rectify the dire situation throughout the entire opening number makes for a particularly awkward start. My third thought, which repeats several times during the set with increasing frustration, is 'when are they gonna play the tunes?'
It might be a bit rich to expect a set comprised heavily of material from their holy trinity of late 70’s albums, (Wire afterall have been musically active, on and off, for 30 odd years) but still, you'd think that the likes of 'I am the Fly', 'Outdoor Miner' and '3 Girl Rhumba' would take precedence over musical nonentities like 'Our Time' from 2002's Read and Burn LP; apparently not.
Despite the forced enthusiasm of some first-time-rounders the gig is a sonic disaster that leaves me duly dissilusioned. Wire’s reluctance to pay lip service to their more decorated past in order to present themselves as a band existing within the ‘now’ conversely marks them as a band out of touch with both their audience and themselves.
Luckily in a Chinese Karaoke bar across town a post-Wire performance by LA natives HEALTH is sufficiently galvanising to restore my flagging artrock faith. Perhaps the most high profile band, along with No Age, to emerge from the LA's fertile Smell scene, the West Coast four piece are able to achieve the unlikely feat of making forty minutes of drone-rock noise sound like a dangerously sexy proposition. At no point during their set is any member of the band static or making anything like the kind of noise traditionally expected by the instrument in their hands. The cumulative result is kind of like how those more experimental Liars albums might have sounded if they weren't self indulgent and lifeless, a striking mix of hypnotic robot vocals, chiseled melodic dissonance and beat smart rhythmic intensity. By the time the opening beat of 'Crimewave', one of the bands more readily identifiable numbers (thanks in part to its ubiquitous Crystal Castles remix) kicks in they've got the crowd eating out the palm of their hands. With one final 30 second blast of noise it’s all over. After forty minutes of flailing limbs and and righteous art-noise the band look exhausted, but after my Wire induced despondency I feel positively energised. Give me youthful exuberance over po-faced self-importance any day of the week.
Words: Billy Idle
Health - Crimewave mp3 (download here or listen below!)