Wire At The Drill Festival At The Echoplex, Saturday April 1st 2017
Wire, the highly influential UK band, was headlining the Drill Festival at the Echoplex on Saturday, and if I attended only one day of the 3-day festival, I obviously picked Saturday, the day they were playing. The band formed in 1976 and played for the first time at London‘s Roxy club on April 1st 1977, so Saturday’s performance was day for day the 40th anniversary of their proper debut. 40 years? This sounded totally ridiculous, as Colin Newman said at one point of the show, but a sign of greatness when, forty years later, you still can relate to something you have composed when you were in your 20s.
If everyone was there to see Wire, the long evening started with four different bands, and different is the right word as their respective sounds couldn’t have been more eclectic. Once and Future Band was very jazzy, in a sort of Steely Dan manner, at least their singer’s vocals were reminiscent, while the compositions were decorated with a wobbling double keyboard and prog-style guitar solos. I got a very 80s vibe, and they became jazzier and jazzier as the set progressed, getting mellow at moment, and navigating between jazz and a movie soundtrack.
Mild High Club got people in a completely different mood with sweet melodies by Alex Brettin, Ariel Pink and Mac DeMarco’s touring mate… and this detail may help give an idea of the music. It was more than just sweet, the atmosphere was slow with repetitive guitars and the cuteness of the 60-70’s going through some lazy and kaleidoscopic remake, in the sense that this was the type of music you would listen while laying on a sunny beach. A few songs had a sleepy Brazilian bossa nova smoothness going through a cloud of weed… as a matter of fact I remember smelling some during their set.
In case you had fallen asleep during Mild High Club’s set, Youth Code was there to wake you up with a punch in the stomach and a drill going through the skull. We were at the Drill Festival after all and their set was as intense as it was disturbing. Singer Sara Taylor was hurling, yelling, screaming, going into the most aggressive mode, bouncing on stage, jumping with a hardcore anger over the industrial beats of Ryan George standing behind her electronic table and sporadically adding his own aggression to their Rob Zombie horror show. They call their music EBM, Electronic Body Music, and it surely was a tough, tattoo-shaking work-out.
Julia Holter drastically calmed down the mood with her slow and desolated piano pieces. She seemed to speak her own language, living in her own world, sitting behind her piano, and being hardly visible, playing music out of genres, out of time. It was a quiet and peaceful set but also very sad with one or two hooks but mostly pretty mysterious compositions, between classic music and avant-garde, some convoluted weirdness wrapping her very beautiful voice
I am not gonna lie, I was not listening to Wire in 77 or even a bit later, I have a lot to catch up with them, as they never went mainstream where I lived, and when you are a kid, you only are aware of mainstream. However, as they started playing, I could hear a sound that was not totally unfamiliar, some reminiscence of Joy Division, New Order, R.E.M. and even some most recent bands. Wire’s sound is difficult to pinpoint, a brand of art punk with tough guitars and infectious dance-y pop hooks, getting very obvious during their recent song ‘Diamonds in Cups’ (they actually played many songs of their 2017 release ‘Silver/Lead’) contrasting with a slow, Velvet Underground-throb of ‘This Time’, then accelerating a bit into the monochord outburst of their bullet-song, ‘Three Girl Rhumba’, one of the tunes they played during their first gig ever.
Colin Newman on guitar and Graham Lewis on bass shared the vocals, and while the band played their razor-sharp songs with surprising chords and oblique detours in a very tight manner, the four members stayed far apart all set long, with Matthew Simms, the most recent addition to the band, standing in the extreme right of the stage, and adding layers to the already complex fabric, and Robert Grey only showing the tip of his bald head behind the drumset.
When he was on vocals, Newman had this solemn-morose tone, bent on his guitar most of the time, while Lewis kept his angry bulldog stare all-night long and took his most post-apocalyptic voice when he started singing. They installed chaos in a very efficient way during ‘Underwater Experiences’, or ‘Stealth of a Stork’, two surprisingly recent songs, respectively from their 2011 EP ‘Strays’ and their 2013 album ‘Change Becomes us’, which probably could have been written at any time during their long career.
They had reserved a big surprise for the end of the show, a massive rendition of ‘Pink Flag’, their 1977 song, bringing many guitarists on stage to strum the chords at the same time, as the Pinkflag Guitar Orchestra …. We recognized Jason Faulkner on the right, but there were undoubtedly a few other celebs in the pack. The power that these 30 or 40 musicians released on stage was unbelievable and gave us a formidable experience.
Wire’s guitar textures are dense and barely similar from one song to the next, they click and jump, they throb and shake through a wall of fuzz, they dance and penetrate your skull, but it is not noise, the melodies surface with grandiosity, wrapped with mystery, the mystery of compositions which transcend genres and time.
Diamonds in Cups
Three Girl Rhumba
Art of Persistence
Red Bark Trees
Small Black Reptile
Split your Ends
Playing Harp for the Fishes
Short Elevated Period
Stealth of a Stork