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Review

Wire

Showbox, Seattle, Washington, USA (September 10, 2002)

Wire are nothing if not a forward looking band, so it was quite a surprise they mounted a retrospective reunion tour two years ago. For the first time in their history they merged material from both their '70s 'punk'/new-wave era with that from their sequencer-based '80s version. Somehow they managed to make these shows both nostalgic and progressive, by approaching all of the material with a new energy, and by rearranging the keyboard songs for guitars and drums. A 'new' Wire approach emerged that unified the angular 'guitar mania' of the '70s material with the mechanized, hypnotic material of the '80s—Pink Flag and Drill merged into a new whole.

So it was with some sense of relief that this year Wire turned on the juice again for real. Instead of making one long new album they decided to release a series of EPs, called Read and Burn. The idea was to get the music out to the fans as close to the creativity cycle as possible. The two EPs so far find Wire pummeling through a dozen guitar-based tunes, ten of which were showcased at the Showbox.

At 11pm the house lights went off and the droning throb that opens 99.9 came over the speakers. However, the band didn't play it live—it was all sequenced. Without fanfare, Colin came onstage in a blue sweatshirt, carrying a lyric sheet, from which he sang the lyrics into a hand held microphone, all the while making eye contact and interesting faces for the small crowd of 300 or so. Meanwhile, the other band members arrived on-stage: Bruce—gray hair and glasses and white shirt—stayed in one spot and hunched over his equipment while blasting thick chunks of guitar sound all set; Lewis—shaved head, black jacket and shirt—looked the same as two years ago; and Robert—a wiry version of Riff Raff from Rocky Horror—who played his drums like a demented human machine.

And then they were off on a tear through Read and Burn. Germ Ship was jerky rhythms and speed; 1st Fast was a total blur; and Lewis sang his sole lead on Agfers... His voice was deep and powerful, and as usual, the shaven-headed one looked demented while spitting out the lyrics. The two best Read and Burn 01 tunes were done together: Comet (featuring Colin and Lewis screaming the chorus) and In the Art of Stopping—a Wire classic. During this track, Colin played a Steinberger guitar in open tuning, strumming it with one hand, holding a microphone with the other, while he danced around centre stage and made faces at the crowd.

I Don't Understand ended the set again with more hair-raising facial expressions from Lewis, and then, 45 minutes after it started, the set was over.

I'd heard they were doing Lowdown and Pink Flag for encores so I was pleased to hear the opening rhythm to Advantage in Height. It was played identically to the 2000 tour version. Lowdown followed, perhaps the first tune most folks in the crowd actually identified. With the final "That's the lowdown!" from Colin, the band left the stage again.

Right before midnight they reclaimed the stage for a furious, eight-minute-long Pink Flag—a noise and fury married to a throbbing, ever-increasing rhythm. As the time ticked past midnight and onto the 11th, Colin screamed repeatedly "how many DEAD OR ALIVE?"—an odd moment, if you stopped to think about it.

And then, with smiles and waves, they were gone again. Another great show, more great new music on the way. Middle age? What middle age?

Set list: 99.9, Germ Ship, Mr. Marx's Table, 1st Fast, Read and Burn, The Agfers of Kodack, Comet, In the Art of Stopping, Spent, I Don't Understand.

Encore: Advantage in Height, Lowdown, Pink Flag.

Mitch Goldman.

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