London South Bank Royal Festival Hall

Then they go again, smiling smugly. We came to praise [a]Wire[/a]. The wankers went and buried themselves.

We came here tonight to praise [a]Wire[/a], not to bury them. While the reformation of other punk-era bands has only served to remind how quickly the spirit of ’76 turned into classic rock, [a]Colin Newman[/a], Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Robert Gotobed were always about challenge, rejuvenation and anti-rock with great tunes. Hell, they wouldn’t be doing this unless they’d found something new in the old stuff, a fresh way to amaze, enthrall, jerk our perceptions around. We trusted you. You bastards.

Because tonight is like the ’80s never went away – the worst thing about the decade is onstage tonight in the form of Newman and Lewis‘ side-projects, Immersion and He Said, who provide tonight’s support. This involves bad art-school video and some anonymous people playing synthesisers.

When [a]Wire[/a] finally arrive, they are immediate victims of their own earlier hubris. For tonight’s fun-filled frug-fest had begun with a video from a 1978 TV show, showing the four as young, intense rock iconoclasts full of the self-righteous arrogance of youthful genius. Now there are four bored old blokes onstage, running through the obscure bits of their late-’80s canon, slick, cold and desperately trying not to acknowledge our presence. Suffice to say, Blur and Elastica did not build careers out of this part of [a]Wire[/a]’s catalogue.

Guitars chime artily, Newman mumbles, things pick up momentarily when they play an ominous, grungy ‘Lowdown’ (a punk rock one off 1977’s ‘Pink Flag’), and then… oh shit. It’s everyone’s favourite avant-garde ballet dancer Michael Clark, the ’80s’ most preposterous and scary figure.

Then Wire come back on, play two or three bits of the early, funny stuff with barely concealed contempt, and go. Instead of the usual stamps and hollers for more, the bewildered crowd groan, in one voice, “But it was just getting started!” So the four return to play ’12XU’, punk’s ultimate art-thrash classic. They give it to us like a primary school teacher hands out games on a Friday afternoon, because we are not yet able to understand what’s good for us. Then they go again, smiling smugly. We came to praise Wire. The wankers went and buried themselves.

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