Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Teaching Aliens Shamanic Moves

After a walk along the beautiful Rochdale Canal, where I was attacked by an angry goose called Jimmy, it was time for some Tomaga. Tomaga are a drum'n'bass duo from London who are not really "drum'n'bass" as such but those are the instruments with which they make a lot of their music. A woman sat behind a drum kit customised with an upside down wok and a couple of tabla style hand drums hammering out some Tortoise-like rhythms.  A man sat at a table on which perched three synth gadgets making a rather Wire-like noise when he wasn't pumping a bass guitar. Something had come between them. It was a big xylophone, and early on they both played it at the same time. Tomaga music is rhythmically interesting and experimental in the sense that it is very much out of the ordinary. I was reminded sometimes of Colin Newman's collaboration with Tortoise recorded for Radio 3's Late Junction and at other times the chunky slabs of ominous rhythm guitar with which Bruce Gilbert would shade many Eighties Wire songs, however Tomaga had their own cool instrumental style. They were certainly preferable to Pins, who I'd mistakenly assumed would be supporting Wire as they were billed for the Manchester gig. As I said to Wire guitarist Matthew Simms in the between band lull, "I must've got my wires crossed." I also asked him if he thought it would be possible for Wire to pull off a live rendition of my favourite Wire album "154" in its entirety. He said he thought it was do-able and surprised me when he told me that they'd actually rehearsed "A Touching Display" but it didn't get very far. Wire had obviously got further with "Blogging" as it was sounding tighter and shinier than the last few times I'd heard them play it. Starting the set with the first song on their recent eponymous album set a course with the latest map references: the whole album was played, but not in sequence. Interspersed were three songs from the seventies, two from the eighties and three from previous albums since their 21st century reactivation. "Youtubing hope," was a "Blogging" lyric that leaped out at me in synchronicity as earlier that day I'd blogged  a review of godspeed you! black emperor that hinged on the word 'hope.' "Jostle and Joust" flew by like a Dutchman but it was the first olden goldie "Silk Skin Paws" that started me off. I'd seen nothing like it, standing before me. "Drill" was super-tight, revved up spinning through the grinder with diamond tipped sharpness and clarity. "Mekon Headman" came as no surprise as I'd heard them play it in their soundcheck, and was another singalong. At some point Graham Lewis lost his hat. I think it was about here? "Sleep-Walking" was interesting as Matthew Simms sat cross legged and played a curious stringed instrument with a slide, flat on the floor. It looked like a baby pedal steel guitar minus the pedal. Earlier he'd told me "Sleep-Walking" was his favourite song on "Wire." I'd asked him about the strange voice babbling in the background on the studio recording and was surprised to discover it was Graham Lewis, as I thought it was maybe something from radio or a field recording, maybe even EVP. "Stealth of a Stork" was another fun blast, and the second most punk rock number that night. Another surprise was a fine resurrection of "Blessed State." It had been rehearsed and recorded on a five track EP for their first gig of this century but not played there. I was amused that for the first few notes I mistook it for "The Fifteenth" as I've almost certainly listened to "154" more than any other album. The Trades Club had the PA set wide so near the front the vocals sounded muddy, much sharper at the back of the room. Standing in front of Colin Newman's guitar amp gave a satisfyingly grungey flavour to the mostly bright upbeat melodies, lacking elsewhere in the room. "Swallow" only revealed to me that night its similarity to "Desert Diving" from "Read and Burn 3" but its a much better tune. "Harpooned"  predictably speared a grand finale, but not as monolithic as the last gig I'd heard them play at Gorilla in Manchester, as the sound system was lacking in raw power. Thankfully they were back very quickly, but not before I'd taken a guitar pedal count . Matthew won with fourteen. Graham Lewis had thirteen and Colin Newman nine. There is a "Manscape" out-take called "Who Has Nine?" so now we know the answer. They didn't play that of course but I did meet a fan in the adjoining bar who told me when I asked him, "What do you like?" that if he could have a request he'd ask for something off "Manscape." What we did get was a short sharp punk rock salute "Brazil" followed by the cymbal splashing "Adore Your Island." The last song would have been a surprise if I hadn't spied it on the setlist, but when they actually played "Used To" it was a revamping of the original clunky demo version, without Bruce Gilbert's ominous drones from the "Chairs Missing" incarnation so that it sounded more like a song from "Pink Flag." Only illuminated next did day it dawn on me that they hadn't played "Pink Flag."

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