Thursday, May 28, 2015


Colin Newman, Wire, RPM Club, Toronto, June 17, 1987

ONE OF MY FAVORITE MEMORIES OF MY YEARS AT NERVE MAGAZINE was the June evening when Wire, recently reformed and touring with a new record, passed through town. As with any other band that interested me, I showed up during the soundcheck with my camera and some vague accreditation that bought me a few minutes with a bunch of tired, bored musicians halfway through a long day in the middle of a long tour.

That usually wouldn't be enough to make it a memorable day. Certainly the portraits I took of the band weren't enough, either; the frame below, shot with my Mamiya C330, certainly has very little to recommend it beyond a stark artlessness that's somewhat suitable to its subject. Not that Wire were artless - they were probably among the artiest of all of the second wave British punk and new wave bands - but they presented it with a bluntness that trumped pretension.

I can't help but regret that I didn't take just one more frame - one that would have caught guitarist Bruce Gilbert with his eyes open. I have 35mm shots from the same session around somewhere, but they seem to have gone missing.

Wire, Toronto, June 17, 1987

I'd been introduced to the band by Dave, who passed me a copy of 154 - presumed to be their last proper album - in my earliest days at the paper, just as I was leaving the office after dropping off some copy and photos. I took it home and taped it. It was a strange record - psychedelic, in an austere, anhedonic sort of way - with one standout, singable single, the insanely catchy "Map Ref 41°N 93°W." Wire were the sort of band who'd give their poppiest song an utterly gnomic title, and rock critics, especially the budding kind, love that sort of thing.

Then suddenly they were back, reformed with a new album and a tour. The new record, The Ideal Copy, was definitely a progression from 154, with even more electronics, sampling (then a very new thing) and a monolithic, beat-heavy sound. The lyrics were certainly up to Wire's old standard, with individual verses - "They're checking the traps for one of the chaps;" "I remember making the body search;" "When it's cold I feel cold, when it's hot I feel ambitious" - sticking out from some remarkably clubable songs.

Graham Lewis, Wire, RPM Club, Toronto, June 17, 1987
Robert Gotobed, Wire, RPM Club, Toronto, June 17, 1987

When the tour began the band announced that they would play none of their old material, but managed to find a Wire cover band called Ex-Lion Tamer to open for them, playing "hits" from the first three records. At RPM they hit the stage bathed in white light; when they were playing the lights turned on, when they stopped, they went out.

Best of all was drummer Robert Gotobed, whose kit consisted of a kick drum, a snare and a hi-hat; having stripped their rhythm tracks on the record down to a machine-like simplicity, Gotobed turned himself into a human drum machine onstage.

"I get it," Dave said to me as we stood watching the band. "It's a 'rock concert.' That's the 'drum kit.' There's a 'light show.'" He made air quotes for emphasis as he spoke - then a rather novel gesture. We were, I think, just getting used to our newfound role as a generation steeped in irony, and finding just how much ironic material we could mine out of what we saw every day was still rather exciting.

The blazing white stage lights made the band remarkably easy to shoot, and I ended up with live shots I liked far more than my portraits. It was only recently that I realized bassist Graham Lewis was wearing a stop watch like a bolo tie. I wish I had a decent shot of Bruce Gilbert, but he stuck to the shadows.

I think most of the Nerve staff were at the show that night - recipients of promoters Gary Cormier and Gary Topp's typically generous door policy - and the mood was notably jolly. It was probably the high point of the magazine's existence, though we couldn't have known it at the time.


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