April 24, 2003, Hoxton, UK
Walking into an East London pub and seeing Wire on stage soundchecking is a good sight for these eyes! Bassist Graham Lewis had informed me that there would be a secret warm up gig for their Flag Burning event at the Barbican two days later. There, the plan was to play the entire iconic Pink Flag album and then after an interval play some of their current material much of which found its way spitting and snarling onto the new album Send. Rhodes had been billed as support to Klang, but didn't show, although Wire in their stead was more than adequate recompense for just about every alien on board. They'd been billed on the venue's website as The Pink Flags so it might've been so obvious. The amusement factor of Wire playing "Three Girl Rhumba" whilst supporting a former Elastica guitarist's new band was not lost on any who could spot the connection. Besides the few who'd sauntered in early and heard them play "Reuters" and "Ex Lion Tamer" for soundcheck, I only knew around twenty people who were aware that they were about to hear the most interesting band of the punk-rock-77 era play the best version of their first album from points A to B (again avoiding C, D and E where you play the blues). However I'm sure there were a few more than that in the know and there was much excited dancing towards the low stagefront and a real party atmosphere in one of the hottest gigs I've been to in a long time. In fact it was so hot that my friend Aneeta and I left before Klang even played, but were later told by Wire fans that we hadn't missed much. Lets face it, when your favourite band play one of the most special gigs you've ever been invited to, not much is going to seem like a worthy follow up. Aside from Bruce Gilbert fluffing the second chord of "Mannequin," no doubt muttering too-many-chord curses, the band were in fine shape and played the album very faithfully. Some songs had more venom and precision, especially "Surgeon's Girl" with the hilarious Lewis nonsense back up shouting at the end. "First Fast" seemed to have bled back into that one. "Pink Flag" was pretty much returned to its original drum rolling shape but with less jovial vocals from Colin Newman than on the album it seemed harder and more compacted. "Reuters" on the other hand had an extended intro and some added updates on the mythical weapons of mass destruction from Lewis. "Champs" had lost the splanging guitar overthrubs. Colin Newman downed guitar on several numbers and seemed to be really getting into singing the odd old songs. They might've even lopped a few seconds off those songs that are short because they aren't long like "Field Day For the Sundays" and "Different To Me." What was very apparent when they played "Lowdown," "Strange" and "12XU" was how much they've improved as a live band since the first retrospective at the Royal Festival Hall back in 2000. I was double glad to have witnessed this unique event as the sound at the Barbican was just not loud enough and the experience was so much more of a rush and roar in an intimate sweaty pub. After by far the best live version of "12XU" I've ever heard them pull off, some monkeying heckler couldn't help but shout, "You Can't Leave Now!" but of course they were gone.