Prince Albert, Brighton, Sun 12th April
Post-punk stalwarts Wire are, with the exception of new-boy guitarist, now all in their Sixties - yet still show no sign of slowing down or letting up. Less than six months after curating and playing at the Drill festival here they're back - in a crammed-to-capacity room above a pub for the first of two “intimate warm up” gigs. Before a tour which includes two further Drill festivals, one in London andone in Chicago.
After an admittedly faltering start, they hit their stride. Wire are like a precision instrument, two guitars interlocking, tracks building to a head then stopping on a dime. Though at one point second guitarist Matt Simons (the new boy mentioned earlier) coined a new genre, blistering away on noise bottleneck guitar.
The final (pre-encore) number was based around a rumbling, dirgy riff, building in force like a sonic avalanche until you came to fear the world might come to an end. Such stuff does for your self what being put in a boiling cauldron would do for your body, pulps you back down to that originating undifferentiated gloop. As once said by me (well nobody else ever quotes me!) “music comes from the drone, the single held note, the way all the land masses we live on know came from the original super-continent Pangea.” As such its music particularly suited to the live environment, when you’re semi-subliminally aware its having the same all-is-one effect upon the whole crowd.
Stepping back on stage for the encore they announced they only had seven minutes before the curfew. At which point someone from the audience pointed out that, in the old days, that would have done them for seven numbers. And then, for the first time that night, they served up pretty much that – propulsive bass lines, spiky guitars, starts and stops.
The set's only weakness was a tendency to get indie, which I suppose another way of saying going soft on you. In Alexis Petridis' review of their new album in the Guardian, he commented: “Wire’s sound has always rested on the intriguing tension between, on the one hand, a desire to experiment and conceptualise and, on the other, Newman’s pop sensibility, his urge for simplicity and his enduring love of late-60s British psychedelia, the balance between the two constantly shifting... It’s tempting to say that on [the new album], the latter aspect of the band has the upper hand.” And indeed it has. And for some of us, the tension is the very thing that keeps it live.
Not great nostalgists, Wire have on occasion hired their own tribute band to support them, thereby giving the crowd the classic tracks without having to bother themselves. Tonight, though, we have better luck…
Support band Tomaga in their own words “channels various forms of multi-instrumentalism into music that moves by turns through industrial, jazz, psychedelia and minimalism, on it’s way to somewhere wholly other.” A decent description, but one which perhaps skips over their biggest influence. For if their name sounds like a word salad made from the classic Can album 'Tago Mago', that doesn't seem entirely a coincidence.
The duo sit squeezed among so much kit, switches, leads and pedals there scarcely seems space left for the people intended to play them. But soon they're off, hands darting between hittable things, strummable things, switches to switch and keys to hold down in quicker time than it takes to tell. If they don't quite bring in the kitchen sink, a wok is brought into play. (Woks turn out to be surpisingly musical.) They're simultaneously ceaselessly inventive and astonishingly tight.
They slip between trance grooves and spacey impro (with perhaps a little too much of the latter for us trance groove fans). Rather than sound like something retro, krautrock almost works better when plugged into modern music technology in this way. Loops are sampled and then played over, like building up a totem pole of sound before your ears, adding level atop level. Perhaps at heart krautrock was always futuristic, always about the benign synthesis of man and machine.
Couldn't seem to find any recent vidclips of Wire, despite them being on tour, so here's some Tomaga (not from Brighton)...
The Haunt, Brighton, Thurs 9th April
Moon Duo's self-described mission statement is to “fuse the futuristic pylon hum and transistor reverb of Suicide or Silver Apples with the heat-haze fuzz of American rock ‘n’ roll to create tracks of blistering, 12-cylinder space rock”.
After Wooden Shjips I've now seen Ripley Johnson in both of his guises, and am mostly reminded of the old Pere Ubu lyric - “buy me a ticket to a sonic reduction”. For paring down and stripping back is clearly his musical watchword. In both bands his vocals are so de-forwarded I found myself trying to recall whether Wooden Shjips were instrumental or not. While here if you were to listen to each instrument separately, on its own channel, you would most likely run through them all concluding each was a backing to something else. The Quietus describe them as a band that “settles on a chord (or two) for each track and runs it into the ground”.
Johnson's guitar is often so laconically simple he's effectively playing bass parts (there being no bassist), even his solos only passing for such in the company they keep. Sanae Yamana's keyboards probably pick up most of the work, though even they're chiefly confined to washes, surges and near-drones. She'll repeatedly slam down on the same keys, like someone trying to give themself RSI.
And John Jeffrey's drums (for Moon Duo recently picked up a live drummer to become a trio), by doing least of all, perhaps sum up best of all how well this reductive business works. A great musician isn't someone who can do a lot but can take a little a long way. Its because they play this simply that they have to play this good. It also throws things into such a focus that relatively small changes, such as a slight slowing-down of the drum pattern, take on a magnified significance. The less there is of what you do, the more that what's left matters.
And their name is well-chosen. (Well that non-counting part of their name anyway.) Like many bands of this stripe, their sound is like being bathed in pure white light. But Moon Duo sound like… well, moonlight, silver-cold and slightly spectral. Hairy West Coast hippies they may be, but the ideal gig for them wouldn’t be on some sun-baked beach, but in some forest clearing with the glowing white orb at its fullest.
It seems Moon Duo where originally the side project, but of late its Wooden Shjips who have waned while they have waxed. (Do you see what I did there?) And I reckon I prefer them of the two. It's like they've set their stall on the right crossroads, the perfect interchange between fuzzy garage and space rock, allowing them to sound rooted and astral at the same time.
More, please, of this less business.
Not much to see in this crowd vid, admittedly, but the sound quality is good enough...