Harsh. Brutal. Unrelenting.
Plenty of rock bands aspire to the sort of unrestrained ferocity that
Wire delivered onstage at the Double Door on Wednesday (the first of a
two-night stand in Chicago), and few deliver. But what was even more
inspiring about the hourlong set was where the performance fit in the
legendary art-punks' long career.
Guitarist-vocalist Colin Newman, bassist Graham Lewis, guitarist Bruce
Gilbert and drummer Robert Gotobed originally came together in London during
the first flowering of the British punk movement in the mid-'70s. More than
a quarter century later, the quartet has self-released its most intense
album, and the material from "Send" grew even more powerful in live
The first incarnation of the band produced three brilliant studio albums
(1977's "Pink Flag," 1978's "Chairs Missing" and 1980's "154"), which
influenced dozens of bands that followed, from R.E.M. to Chicago's Big Black
and from Elastica to Fischerspooner.
Running from 1986 to 1991, the second incarnation basically took one song
from "Pink Flag" (the punk anthem "12XU") and extended it into the arena of
electronic music and techno, with mixed results.
When Wire re-formed for a third time several years ago, it once again
turned to "Pink Flag" for the inspirational blueprint. But this time, the
group focused on the most searing and starkly minimalist songs from that
album ("Strange," "Surgeon's Girl," "106 Beats That" and the title track,
all of which were performed during the encore Wednesday), and it upped the
wattage even more.
The set proper consisted entirely of this pummeling new material from
"Send." And if, as the musicians say, the primary goal of Wire Mach III is
to prove that "a bunch of old geezers" (ages 49 to 57) can provide a smarter
and more visceral sonic experience than most of today's punk or industrial
rock bands, they succeeded admirably.
Newman screamed like a man possessed on songs such as "In the Art of
Stopping" and "Nice Streets Above," while Gilbert unleashed scorching shards
of dissonant guitar noise. Always a riveting presence onstage, Lewis held
down a churning bottom and shouted the occasional backing vocal as he
glowered at fans with the demented look of an ax murderer.
Meanwhile, Gotobed--who for a brief and ill-advised moment during Wire
Mach II was replaced by an electronic groove box--proved himself once again
to be a human drum machine of unparalleled energy and sonority, playing
absurdly fast 32nd-note rhythms with unwavering forcefulness.
All of this was delivered with a sound mix that was one of the most
punishing I've ever heard in a small club. (The band gleefully reported that
at one recent show in England, someone approached their sound technician
screaming, "You are a psychopath!")
In an era where so many bands (including quite a few who claim to be
"punk") eagerly compromise every aspect of their music--from relying on
computers to perfect performances they aren't capable of delivering, to
carefully crafting images that appeal to the correct marketing
demographics--it was invigorating to see four grizzled old legends with
every right to rest on their laurels burning so brightly in the here and
Sure, it would be nice if the ringing in my ears would subside. But a
little pain is nothing compared to the rush provided by the Wire experience