Wire “reinvent their second wheel” at Union Transfer (review, photos)
It was more than 35 years ago that Wire’s debut record, Pink Flag, first dropped, but according to front man Colin Newman, the band still considers themselves current—and still strives towards the same creative and uncompromising standards set in the ’70s. “To be understood, for what we do, in the here and now, I think is a reasonable aim for us,” he explained in a recent interview.
Lofty goals for sure, especially for a band’s whose extensive and much-acclaimed back catalogue providesmore than enough fodder for a round of nostalgia tours. But everyone knows that nostalgia is so not punk rock—and is pretty much out of the question for a band like Wire, who throughout the decades have consistently pushed their own boundaries, from extreme avant-garde performances to a variety of sound experimentations. Saturday night at Union Transfer, the band proved they’re still evolving, with a solid set of post-punk jammers that incorporated both old and new material.
“Old and new” was a theme for the night, evident in both the songs themselves, and the band’s live set-up. The set list drew heavily from the newly-released Change Becomes Us, a record inspired by discarded song fragments from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and refashioned into new-old nugs—plus classic tunes from Pink Flag and other early releases. The band’s core line-up of singer/guitarist Colin Newman, bassist Graham Lewis, and drummer Robert Gotobed—together on and off since the ‘70s—was augmented in 2010 to include guitarist Matthew Simms, a solid 30 years younger than the rest of the band, who provides (we suppose) a youthful perspective. In addition, Newman now uses an ipod (for effects, or maybe just lyrics), and Lewis wore skinny jeans and vintage sneaks. Wire in 2013 is a living-breathing evolution.
The band zipped through twenty songs in an hour and 20 minutes Saturday night, ricocheting between spastic ragers and more melodic growers, Newman mostly stoic and all-business, but loosening up as the night wore on. Changeopener “Doubles & Trebles,” with its spiky riffs and foreboding chord progressions, was an early fave… and it when it transitioned to the comparatively lush “Reinvent Your Second Wheel”—featuring Lewis’s more charged vocals (and impassioned dance moves)—you could have sworn it was a different band entirely.
The murky, shuffling “Blogging for Jesus”—a brand new tune the band debuted just last week—was another highlight, with a 3/4 beat and sense of impending doom—as was the grungy rocker “Smash,” from 2011’s Red Barked Tree.
Wire closed their set with not one, but two encores, satiating fans who yelled out classic song titles throughout. The zippy “Comet” (actually a newer song, off 2003’s Send) hit like a frantic assault; its follower, “Spent,” from the same record, was even more brash and aggressive. And by the time they reached “Two People in a Room” (off 1979’s 154), the crowd was wild and wired for Wire.
It would have been easy to end on a high note, sending the crowd sprawling out the door with energy. But Wire have never been ones to take the easy route, and instead closed out their set with about 5 minutes of noise experimentations, much to the chagrin of everyone hoping for “Ex-Lion Tamer.” Wire might be evolving, but they still know how to subvert expectations.