Great to have the set plus some very nice extras but the liner notes repeat that tired old myth about how the audience didn't understand what was going on. I was on (what is now known as) a 'gap year' before going up to Cambridge and my future room mate unbeknown to me was also in the audience. This was rock concert as anti-art happening and it all made perfect sense. In any case complaining about an audience's confrontational reaction when you've set out to confront them seems a little peculiar. Everything I've read about this 'infamous' gig (and it didn't seem so at the time by the way) posits a polarity between an arty and intellectual group and a thick and thuggish audience and it just wasn't quite like that. Thus no stars for the patronising liner notes and the recycling of tired old myth easily disputable by 'eyewitnesses'.
This is another matter. Of course the first three albums come first--but then, especially if their 80s bump-and-grind never appealed to you, you really must get this set and settle in with it. It is a kind of endpoint for punk's relationship with its audience--not just the pose of hostility followed by loud/fast pure entertainment, this is a record where the hostility is real, on both sides. It's more like Iggy's "Metallic KO" or Dylan's "Live 1966" electric set--it is the MUSIC that is too much for this audience, and the band just shoves its loopy, difficult dadaist music back down the throats of these would-be pogo-ers. And the music is great! For anybody who loved the bonus tracks on "154," that's how "out" this gets at times. But you also get perfectly wonderful late-Wire music like "We Meet Under Tables" and "Go Ahead." Lousy, distorted (overloaded) but full-range and listenable recording, better than a bootleg anyway, and capturing the tension of what must've been a hell of a weird show. This is not "Live at the Hollywood Bowl"...!
This is great and I'll tell you why. Think of one of your favourite bands. A live album appears. In fact, its an album and three quarters. But it is not the usual selection of slightly inferior versions of popular tunes - it's all new, strange and unfamiliar. How often does that happen? A group ditches its hits and performs a whole new batch of material. Of course, this is Wire, so it isn't pipe and slippers stuff. In fact the bulk is them trying to be funny in front of a punk audience that didn't get the joke. There are numerous flaws, but your average band could simply never deliver this sort of surprise.
Tread carefully folks this really is very much for fans only. If you are new to Wire go and order their first three albums, check out their mid-80s stuff, devour the solo works. If you still need more come and get this. This is Wire's very own Metal Machine Music (see Lou Reed), their very own Commercial Suicide. It contains Wire's very last performance of their first incarnation, from 1980. The band had parted company with EMI and were on the market for a new deal. At the Electric Ballroom, Camden Town in February 1980 before an audience of expectant A&R men from new labels and a sell out audience expecting to hear a selection of their critically aclaimed Art-punk Wire proceeded to perform a set of entirely un-heard and under rehearsed material. Their only concession to the crowd was to play a mockingly haphazard version of the often requested 12XU. The rest consists of half finished ideas for new tracks. The sleeve notes helpfully document what was happening on stage during each item, 'Woman enters pulling two tethered men and an inflatable jet'...'Vocalist accompanied and lit by illuminated goose'. The tension between band and audience is detactable throughout. Bottles are thrown, expletives are shouted. The gig itself was poorly recorded and quite distorted and Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis have edited the tracks together in their own inimitable way included the occasional commentary. For the dedicated fan its interesting to hear the tension in the band between the abstract solo work Lewis and Gilbert would produce as Dome, and Newmans more pop-orientated songs. For the Wire completist there is the further bonus of the first eight tracks recorded live at the Notre Dame Hall, which include four unrleased tracks and the last two tracks consisting of the superb 'Our Swimmer' single and its equally essential flipside. An interesting curiosity rather than an essential album.
Am really not a fan of live albums, but they can serve as a worthwhile document for a bands history, and become an essential part of the discography. This album should never have seen the light of day, and is saved only by the excellent single Our Swimmer, and its B Side. Wire were a fantastic band, and recent impersonaters such as Blur and Elastica are way off in comparison, their studio albums are a must, this one is to be avoided, having said that I myself have 2 copies of this album, an LP which I bought years ago in great anticipation, and I have the CD, as I can't get hold of the last 2 tracks anywhere else which are not on the LP.