Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey are the wizened players in one of London's most influential punk bands at a time when the city's punk scene was establishing itself as something grimier and filthier - with rage and youth but no rivet gun to send the points into the floor joists, making them stick like claws and arched doorways. What Newman, Lewis, Grey and then guitarist Bruce Gilbert made was an even odder kind of punk rock that was artful and could have been leather-bound though it would have shook itself right out of those constricting books and back out onto the streets. Really, for the working lads and the toiling people, Wire were and are still more for the poly-sci and mathematical brains than for the safety pins, the mosh pits and the mohawks. It's a pronounced difference that's driven home in all of the group's various works - that this was music that deserved introspection and investigation.
It wasn't just music for the sake of making a statement and it wasn't just music for the sake of making millions. It was music that was its own testament and the songs that Wire wrote in the late 70s and early 80s don't have a stale bone in their bodies. They stack up still as if we're looking into the face of modernism, taut and gritty songs that cut to the quick and get serious before anyone's had a chance to take their coats off and shag a drink. It's not glamour music and it was never music meant to inspire an epidemic of like-minded individuals, and in some ways it didn't for a long time, leaving Wire as the lions at the top of the hill, able to roar and find the effects to be how they wished them to be. The guitar sounds and trickeries are hunting and prowling, searing and silvery, like metal apocalyptically grating across concrete and making a luscious industrial forest. The bass acted as the palpitations of an urgent heart, pounding the clothes away from the chest and Grey's drums are efficient, pounding and relentlessly moody.
Even as these men have moved on in years, their relevancy has not wavered and in this session they demonstrate - along with touring auxiliary guitarist Margaret Fielder McGinnis - the everlasting vibrancy of their music. It has acquired no gray hairs and its ambitious exploration of atmospherics and sonic landscapes is as flashy as it always was, reflecting the short introduction made in the left-hand corner of the band's official website, stating that the band is still active and they still get together to experiment, which still leads to "confounding expectations." Confounding decades, confounding people and still chasing that angular muse no matter how many years it lasts is what Wire is at its utter core.
It's watching Grey slip off his comfortable travel/every day shoes and into the hybrid of old school basketball/prehistoric skater/military shoes as he stoically readies himself to do his work behind the kit. It's seeing Newman scream into a microphone and thrash on a guitar and make it look like as thoughtful of a series of gestures as someone articulating the birth of their child and it's seeing Lewis, who looks like he's a man who takes his pancakes and eggs in black turtlenecks, coats and dapper black shoes and slacks and still would be the best person to ever take to a pub, live through his bass to know that there is no imitation.
*Essay originally published December, 2008