The dial is not turned quite up to 11 at tonight's in-store show: epochal post-punk band they may be, but Wire are, still, in their fifties, and they trickle on to a bizarrely polite smattering of applause.
It's a gig thrown mostly in honour of last Monday's new record, Red Barked Tree. This all stands up, especially for a band this late on in their career: it's very recognisably Wire – lean and spiky post-punk with no spare meat and the gentle use of guitar effects – and while they don't pull the curtain off any grand new innovations, it's all much better than the latter-day records from most bands of this vintage. However, disappointingly, the show displays all the sterile atmosphere of every in-store gig ever; no matter how authentically "alt" your shop, it's never quite the same as a real venue. Energy is in short supply: the crowd, a mixture of industry types in tiny little trousers and proper old punks with alarming head-tattoos, is redoubtably docile, remaining largely silent between numbers. It's a bit eerie, but as the evening proceeds, people do at least start nodding their heads. Some even muster the strength to cheer.
This forces the music to speak for itself, which it does. Wire have always been a cut above their punk peers, reliably willing to try new things, and they've clearly still got the chops from a songwriting perspective. While they mightn't be high-kicking across the stage any more – 1976 was 35 years ago – the spirit remains willing.
Time hasn't ravaged them too badly at all, in fact, even though frontman Colin Newman isn't shy of making the odd dad-joke between songs. He loses his cribsheet at one point, but a dodgy memory for the words is hardly a fault only of the old, and the barrage of good noise they put out is not the work of men past their peak. In a proper show, their set threaded with older songs, Wire would likely be astonishing.