Wire/Stranger Son – The New Continental, Preston
THERE was a sense of life in the early 1980s on Friday night at happening Preston pub venue the New Continental.
I’m not talking about some lame chart-busting tribute night, but the underground alternative, thanks to the latest sell-out Tuff Life Boogie night to remember.
First off we had a very-Manchester band, Stranger Son, offering the best aspects of everything from later Joy Division to a little Kraut-rock inspired electronica.
Guitar and synth-driven in equal measure, built around a hard-working drummer, and always just the right side of art-house and morose. John Peel would have adored them.
And then we had band’s band Wire, showcasing a new album which just happens to have its roots in previously-unreleased recordings from the tail end of their initial ’76/’80 period.
On such a sweaty night at this atmospheric venue, the big fans (and I don’t just mean the stalwart supporters growing a little more portly by the year) and heat of the night had the head-liners wondering just which Continent they had landed upon.
Main-man Colin Newman (guitar, mandola, vocals) and side-kick Graham Lewis (bass, backing vocals) wiped their brows and wondered aloud about the tropical conditions, suggesting they encountered altogether less-sweltering conditions on the first leg of their US tour a few weeks before.
But that didn’t stop them from delivering a blistering set, with plenty of surprises and proof – if it were needed – that Wire are still on top of their game 36 years after Pink Flag was first flown.
How best to sum up this much-admired four-piece and influence on generations of great bands? Well, they’ll make you think forming a band would be futile, but prove inspirational all the same.
If you’ve never caught them live before (and I have to admit – shame on me – this was my first sighting after all those years), take the opportunity where you can.
Maybe start with Change Becomes Us and work backwards if that helps. And the wealth of the songs from that album show-cased here proved that nicely.
While I would have loved to hear old classics like 12XU, Mannequin and Outdoor Miner, I at least got to hear the sublime Map Ref. 41oN 93oW.
There was plenty of that old post-punk charge too, and not just from bygone songs. Besides, this isn’t a band you can easily compartmentalise.
Tracks like the wonderful Adore Your Island off new LP Change Becomes Us veer between later more reflective Wire and good old shouty Wire.
And how could you have been left feeling cheated by this fine set, with so many superb songs from those last four decades getting the modern Wire treatment.
There was evidence in new compositions like Blogging (like Jesus) that they’ve plenty more to offer too, Lewis’ Adamson-style bass and Newman’s Devoto-esque delivery taking me back to Magazine’s songs from under the floorboards.
They got going with slow-building Marooned from Chairs Missing then the hypnotic Drill from The Ideal Copy era, both nicely showcasing drummer Robert Grey and almost new boy on the block Matt Simms’ powerful input.
But it was the new songs at the heart of the set, starting with Doubles and Trebles and Re-invent Your Second Wheel (the latter, dare I say it, almost Floyd-esque), with Newman’s fret work just awesome.
Those tracks included my particular favourite (this week) Love Bends, but there was no clear distinction between the eras as we built towards perfect show-stopper Boiling Boy, 25 years on from its release.
You could argue that they saved their more raucous numbers for the finale, the joyously-frenetic Comet and Spent from Send leading to Pink Flag, closed out with a wealth of disreputable feedback.
Which just goes to show that Wire are growing older with plenty of attitude as well as wisdom.
Out of interest, while my hearing rang on my return, my earworm the following day was a track not even aired on the night, Eardrum Buzz. Make of that what you will.
* With thanks to Enrico La Rocca, Tufflife Boogie, and Richard Nixon for use of his splendid pics from the night
* For an interview with Wire’s Colin Newman (adapted from one by this blogger for the Lancashire Evening Post) head here