Wire, Weekend at the Middle East Rock Club in Cambridge, MA on Sunday, April 3, 2011
Though they were in the first graduating class of punk rock, it's hard to draw clear parallels between Wire and their fellow pioneers such as The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, or The Damned. They didn't have the swagger or physical force, and bridge into the art world as well, their tense minimalism a clear factor in defining their records. Of bands that have gone on a significant hiatus and then woken from their slumber, Wire are among the most accomplished, with the Read and Burn series of EPs heralding the return of a band that took many by surprise. Touring on their new Red Barked Tree, the band has shuffled their stand-in guitarist (original member Bruce Gilbert has been concentrating on his own music), with Matt Sims now playing the role that Margaret Fiedler did last tour.
The lengthy nineteen song set list drew from most corners of their work, and not surprisingly the new record had eight of its eleven songs showcased. What does Wire sound like thirty-five years on from their debut? The spittle and anger is diminished a bit outwardly, but the sharp insights on the society around them is intact, with the set closer and title track "Red Barked Trees" providing a scathing indictment of capitalist forces gone amok. It's rare to see a band that made it mark decades ago not wallow in nostalgia and just play the ancient songbook, but Wire refused to do that, and natch, didn't need to. And when some earlier material was played, the mid-era ("Kidney Bingoes," "Silk Skin Paws") and earlier stuff (a rousing "Pink Flag" to end it, the metronomic "Two People In A Room") sketched out the full profile of Wire's prodigious accomplishments. It's still a bit of a puzzle that they don't play one of the finest choruses they've ever written in "Outdoor Miner," but on the plus side, they did play my favorite song of theirs, the soaring "Map Ref 41 N 93 W."
Weekend was a nice choice for an opening band, and I wonder if they'd knowingly taken on that name; given their post-punk leanings, it's probably likely that they are aware of that same-named project that Alison Statton joined after leaving Young Marble Giants. After a delay in replacing a faulty guitar amp, the trio kicked into a lively batch of songs that drew heavily from the insistent driving bas lines/drum patterns of Joy Division and the repetitive, effective guitar figures of Unrest with more dirt and grit.