Saturday, May 20, 2000
by Jon Pareles
Hindsight has struck Wire, the English band that formed in 1976, broke up in 1980, regrouped in 1985 and dissolved in 1990. Bypassing two decades of dabbling with their synthesizers, Wire is touring in its original configuration of two guitars, bass and drums.
The band has also returned to some its best, and earliest, songs. It opened its set at Irving Plaza on Monday night with Pink Flag, the title song from its debut album in 1977. From its 1980's repertory, it chose not its catchiest tunes but songs like "Boiling Boy" and "Advantage in Height" that easily revert to guitar work workouts.
Unlike the reunited Sex Pistols, Wire didn't set out to recreate punk. It wasn't out to jolt its audience the way it was in the live recordings on "Documentary and Eyewitness" (Mute). Now, it's approach is less brash and more considered, letting songs stretch until the music envelopes and mesmerizes listeners.
Wire was already post-punk, or at least art-punk, before punk hardened into a genre. Even in its early songs, most lyrics were telegraphic and surreal, not blunt. As the band members grew proficient on their instruments, it became clear that Wire was fascinated most of all with evolving patterns: a minimalistic tendency that goes back to punk's Velvet Underground roots. Punk and minimalism, two influential avant-garde in the 1970's, were disparate siblings -- one disruptive, one meditative --but both used strategies of simplicity and repetition.
At Irving Plaza, Wire set out its songs with unflappable rigor, as if the power of the music was purely impersonal. Robert Gotobed's drumming was deliberately mechanical, stating on beat and repeating it precisely. Colin Newman, on guitar, and Graham Lewis, on bass, usually sang without raising their voices, though allowed themselves and occasional groan or smirk. Along with Bruce Gilbert on guitar, they bore down on meticulously plotted instrumental passages.
The steadfast medium tempos and clearly legible structures of the songs turned into measured maelstroms. Fast-strummed guitar chords built crescendos as overtones swirled through the room; drones were activated by selectively distorted guitar tones and layers of consonance and noise. Wire's finale, Drill, headed for the textural wilderness of Sonic Youth.
Wire did hold on to one punk souvenir: the short set. After 55 minutes of fiercely concentrated music, the band was gone.
at the Stereo Society (selected
Wire discography (to 1991)
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