Wire

The art-punk rockers keep it real in Belfast's Limelight, and they don't care who likes it or not

'We're Wire. Who are you?' This is the opening gambit from bass player Graham Lewis. It's the English band's first ever gig in Belfast, but he's not going out of his way to try to win us over.

Wire instantly launch into 'Red Barked Trees' from their current album, Red Barked Tree. Retooled without the acoustic guitar it is now surging and electric, a statement of intent from a band whose effects-laden guitar sound has left an imprint on U2, Blur and Radiohead.

Wire have caused ripples that have spread a long way, and in person they are uncompromising. Tonight's set is made up of songs from their current album, some of their recent Read and Burn releases and one or two carefully chosen older songs.

Formed in 1976, Wire are one of few original punk bands not to have grabbed at the heritage and nostalgia paycheck. They've never gone away for too long, so have never had to do a comeback.

With a more or less unchanging line-up, they absorbed what they wanted from the musical landscape around them through the 1980s and 90s, but have stayed true to an aesthetic which is meticulously thought through and (yes) uncompromising.

Colin Newman's vocals on new songs like 'Smash' and 'Two Minutes' have hardly changed since '12XU' on their first album: still shouting, sloganeering or singing a melody of three or four repeated notes. But it's not just the vocals - there is a sense of rigour and manifesto in everything they play tonight, from the new songs like 'Clay' to older ones like 'Drill'.

This ideology is in the fast tempos and Robert Grey's pared down, unflinching drum beats. It's in the two guitars layered over each other to create a rhythm and texture as much as harmonic structure. And it’s in the arrangements which ebb and flow almost organically, refusing any trace of 'rockism'.

This is a guitar band, but one who have gladly taken a pledge to forswear middle eights, key changes and singalongs with hands in the air. But, although Wire songs don't give away their content easily the lyrics do break through and connect. On opener 'Red Barked Trees', for example, Newman sings of pain and of the search for healing. They like abstraction more than emotion, but are not consumed by it.

Wire are famous for not playing much of their back catalogue. So no-one's expecting 'Outdoor Miner' (their nearly-hit from 1979). They do play 'Pink Flag' from their first album, but they ignore the more obvious crowd pleasers as if these might be a corrupting influence – not on the audience, but on themselves.

Wire have returned to the UK and Ireland from gigs in Australia and New Zealand before jetting off to the rest of Europe and then to the US and Canada. They're not playing stadiums, but the reach of their world tour shows that their iconic status is undiminished. Tonight's gig in Belfast shows why. Wire were uncompromising, but they took us with them.

Topics