Punk greats Wire changed with the current

October 20, 2008


Alone among their peers from the punk explosion of the '70s -- or, really, the great bands of any style or era that carry the weight of more than three decades of history -- legendary English art-punks Wire fight nostalgia as if it is the enemy of life itself, a soul-sapping disease that leads only to misery, decay and death.

Certainly the history is there to exploit. The three masterful albums from the quartet's original incarnation -- "Pink Flag" (1977), "Chairs Missing" (1978) and "154" (1980) -- have been cited as inspirations by bands as diverse as Minor Threat and R.E.M., My Bloody Valentine and Big Black. A tour heavy on the cult favorites would surely draw large crowds and sizable paydays, and yet the group refuses.

Facing a worshipful crowd at Metro on Saturday during the last night of an American tour, Wire did reach into the back catalog from time to time, as with a haunting version of "Being Sucked in Again" early in the set. But it did so on its own terms.

"Another shift in time into the present," bassist-lyricist Graham Lewis said after that tune as he prepared to launch into the new "Mekon Headman." Vocalist and guitarist Colin Newman quickly corrected him: "We're always in the present."

And that was the strength of the group's electrifying set. Whether it was tearing through the strong material from the recent "Object 47" or vintage anthems such as "Pink Flag," "106 Beats That" and "The 15th," the band invested every song with a passion, urgency and immediacy that was completely of the moment, and every tune underscored the core elements of the Wire sound: the juxtaposition of indelible vocal hooks with searing noise, and the construction of massive walls of sound from minimalist one-chord (and sometimes one-note) drones.

The finale of "12XU," delivered at triple the speed, was barely recognizable from the version on "Pink Flag" 31 years ago. But that was the point: Like the entire show, it was 100 percent Wire, and it was 100 percent alive and undeniable in the here and now.