London, 15 and 16 April 2015
The fellow shouting “Kidney Bingos” between songs hasn’t been to a lot of Wire shows. The art-rock ensemble confound expectations, delight and bemuse, but they don’t play requests called out from the floor. When it comes to song selections, they send and the audience receives. Sometimes, the reaction is a plea for a favourite song, but usually it’s the bobbing of heads and appreciative cheers: Wire fans don’t expect a greatest hits tour, so are open to shows that evolve organically.
A week of Wire at the DRILL:Lexington festival gives fans a chance to see the band in a number of permutations. The main constant, on the second and third nights, is a set dominated by the eponymous new album. It’s had positive write-ups all over, and The Guardian has put its weight behind it for mainstream liberals. The festival is taking place in N1, within hipster cycling distance of the newspaper’s main offices, so it’s a combination of broadsheet readers and loyal fans who assemble for craft beer and feedback. By the third night, the newly-released album has been digested and welcomed into the Wire body of work, so that references to eBay, Manchester and Paul the Octopus draw smiles of recognition from new and old fans alike.
Drummer Robert Grey barely opens his eyes during the set, and then only to take cues amidst the processed feedback. His expression is as taught as his rhythms: Grey provides Wire’s backbone, holding Graham Lewis’ frantic bass grooves in step with Matt Simms’ lead guitar. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Colin Newman, manages some smiles between songs, but his performance is serious business through the newer material.
The band break and return for short sets of classic tracks: Two People in a Room and Used To are treats at the Tuesday show; the next day’s reward includes Comet and reprises Used To. The line between these tracks and the new album isn’t a straight one: there are some prog rock zigs and punky zags involved. The point of Wire isn’t consistency of style; it’s consistency of quality. You can call out “Kidney Bingos” all you like, but their idea of rock isn’t to be your human iPod.