Wire | South Street Seaport | 5.30.2008

Wire_seaportMaybe I just had LOST's season finale on my mind, but Wire frontman Colin Newman looks more than a little like that show's Benjamin Linus these days. Or a college professor. Dressed in a black suit, with glasses falling off his nose, Newman nonetheless sounded the same with that punk sneer and strong London accent.

This was Wire's first NYC show in eight years. Ripping into "Our Time" from last year's excellent Read and Burn 03 EP, they pretty much announced right off the bat that a) they've still got it and b) they weren't here to trot out the hits. They never have been that type anyway. When the band reformed in 1985 after a six year break, they hired a Wire cover band (The Ex-Lion Tamers) to open for them on tour to do the songs from their first incarnation.

Tonight, however, we got Wire from every era of the group and nearly every album. Seven of the set's 16 songs were 1990 or before, sprinkled throughout the set (despite what Brooklyn Vegan commenters might have you believe), though they did save the best-known ones for the end, including "The 15th" and "12XU" (or as my friend Dorrit calls it, "Twelve Times You").  and Early in the set we The new songs from Wire's upcoming album, Object 47, sounded solid — definitely more melodic than anything else they've done this decade, the best of which was probably "One of Us" which they released as a free download last week.

Again, despite the majority of the set being new-ish material, we did also get "Being Sucked in Again" from Chairs Missing early in the set, as well as "Boiling Boy" from A Bell is a Cup Until it Is Struck, and The Ideal Copy's "Advantage in Height." My only complaint is these oldies are the same ones they played in 2001 at Irving Plaza, and it would be nice if they mixed it up a little giving us "Manequin," "I am the Fly,"  or "Drill," with maybe one or two of Graham's songs as well ("Blessed State," "Ambitious" or "The Finest Drops").

The band was in fine form, though. Watching from the side area I got a good view of drummer Robert Gotobed who is still a machine at age 57. Bassist Graham Lewis, in a knit cap that had to have been hot, did not look his age, and Margaret Fielder (of Laika and Moonshake) makes a fine replacement for Bruce Gilbert. (I've got to pull out those Laika records…) Hopefully Wire will return once the album is out, and take less than eight years to do so.

MP3: Wire – Advantage in Height

SETLIST: Our Time | Mr. Marx's Table | Comet | Being Sucked in Again | Mekon Headman | Perspex Icon | Advantage in Height | The Agfers of Kodack | All Fours | One of Us | Boiling Boy | The 15th | 106 Beats That | I Don't Understand | ENCORE: Lowdown | 12XU

More reports: Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, The Village Voice, Billboard, and others.

And Pat at Pop Tarts Suck Toasted shot this nice video of "Lowdown":

Wire With a View

For me, summer starts with the first Friday show at South Street Seaport… which this year is tomorrow, though there won’t be another till July 11. The Seaport Music series is always such a good way to kick off weekends, when it’s not raining or the pier is being attacked by swarms of insects. (The latter only happened once, during Camera Obscura last year but it was really freaky.) This year’s lineup — what they’ve announced so far looks good. It will be interesting to see just how loud A Place to Bury Strangers will be allowed to play, and how much it will scare the tourists.

But tomorrow’s kickoff with art punk legends Wire is what I’m most excited about. I am a pretty big Wire fan. having followed them ever since I heard their song “Ahead” on an Enigma Records sampler I bought for $4.99 in 1987. (It also introduced me to Mojo Nixon and Game Theory.)

Reformation and reunion shows can be dicey affairs, but Wire are not nostalgists by nature and have been active since getting back together in 2000 after a 8-year vacation. I saw Wire when they played Irving Plaza back in 2000 around the time of their reformation and, I must admit, my biggest memory of that show is that I sold my extra ticket to a scalper to which I was given a counterfeit $20… of course I didn’t realize it till I used it at Irving Plaza’s bar. (I didn’t get kicked out, and still have that funny money somewhere… and haven’t dealt with scalpers since.) My memory of the show is that they didn’t do any classics apart from “12xU” and “Drill” but a quick Google search is that it was almost entirely oldies nicely plucked from throughout their career.

This was before they started recording new material, most of which has uniformly good, if not excellent — and not just “good for a bunch of geezers” either — including three Read and Burn EPs and an album, 2003’s Send. Bassist Bruce Gilbert quit the band in 2004 but, weirdly, they seem to have gotten better. Last year’s Read and Burn 03 EP was maybe the best yet of the 00s-era Wire, the highlight of which is the epic “23 Years Too Late” with great vocal interplay between Colin Newman and Graham Lewis:

MP3: Wire – 23 Years Too Late

All of which bodes well for their upcoming 10th album, Object 47, which comes out July 7. To these ears it sounds like update of the kind of songs found on 1987’s The Ideal Copy: dark and sinewy, but with bite and melody too. The band were kind enough to give us a taster:

MP3: Wire – One of Us

We’ll hear more tomorrow when Wire play the first Seaport show of the 2008 season. Filling Bruce Gilbert’s spot on guitar will be Margaret Fielder who was in Moonshake and Laika, the latter of whom did a great version of Wire’s “German Shepards” for the 1994 Wire tribute CD, WHORE.

MP3: Laika – German Shepherds

A setlist from Manchester’s Futuresonic festival earlier this month looks like mostly new stuff, with some old nuggets (“Boiling Boy,” “The 15th,” “Lowdown,” “12XU,” “106 Beats That”) thrown in as well, but don’t be surprised if they show up in radically reworked versions. Wire aren’t much for nostalgia.

MP3: Wire – The 15th

MP3: Wire – 106 Beats That

MP3: Wire Lowdown

MP3: Wire – Boiling Boy

And I know they’re not going to play this, but I’ve always loved “Ambitious” from The Ideal Copy:

MP3: Wire – Ambitious

The essential first three Wire albums were reissued in 2006 on Wire’s label, Pink Flag, and sound great. Actually, I recommend just about everything Wire’s ever done, even the very synthy 1991 Wir album (no “e” as drummer Robert Gotobed had left the band), The First Letter. Only 1990’s Manscape is skippable.

Also worth picking up is Wire on the Box: 1979, a CD/DVD combo of the band’s awesome performance on German music TV show, Rockpalast. You can actually see all of it on YouTube. Here’s “The 15th” which was still a year away from seeing a recorded version on 154, and was later covered by electroclashers Fischerspooner:

If you’re heading down to the Seaport tomorrow and look to drink on the cheap, there’s a fish-n-chips place in the back of the top floor Seaport food court that sells 32 oz styrofoam cups of beer for next to nothing. It’s definitely the way to go.

For more info, visit the River to River website.

Sonic Paramedics Weep for New Wire EP

Expect the worst. No matter how much you loved a band, even if they never made a bad record, and all the original members are participating in the new recordings. This is how I approach everything reunions and albums by bands who’ve been together more than 20 years. Cause chances are, it’s going to suck.

But some groups you have more hope for than others. Wire are one of them. Like the Fall, Wire have never had any interest in nostalgia, constantly moving forward for the last 30 years. When they reformed in 1986 they refused to play songs from their first three records, though they did hire a Wire cover band, the Ex-Lion Tamers, to open for them. (They did however play some oldies in 2000 when I saw them at Irving Plaza — a radical idea for them.) Even when the results are less than successful (1990’s Manscape) you can never say they aren’t doing their own thing.

Wire ceased to function a second time in the early 90s after making one record as Wir (drummer Robert Gotobed had left the group), but Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Gotobed resurrected the group around the millenium, and have trickled out new material in the form of a series of Read & Burn EPs in-between reissues of their classic albums.

Read & Burn 3 is the first new recordings we’ve had in about five years, and these four tracks show they’ve lost none of their momentum. They’re still playing songs at 12XU speed, impressive when you think Bruce Gilbert is in his ’60s. I’m especially partial to the nearly 10-minute lead track "23 Years Too Late" as Newman and Lewis share vocal duties. Graham Lewis has always had this menacing quality to his vocals* and it’s used to good affect here. Wire promise a brand new album in 2008 that will include no previously released tracks.

MP3: Wire – 23 Years Too Late
(Buy Read & Burn 3)

*If I ever got to be music supervisor on a horror film, I would campaign for Wire’s song "Feed Me" (from the Awesome The Ideal Copy) to be used in it. It’s Graham Lewis at his creepy best.

MP3: Wire – Feed Me
(Buy The Ideal Copy)