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Maria am Ufer, Berlin, Germany (November 12, 2002)

Wire Burning in Berlin

A red and green light flashes from atop a bass amp, a stop/go signal battling the encroaching darkness of a former Eastern Bloc concrete bunker. Slowly, a juddering electronic pulse begins to bounce around German skulls. An ominous atmosphere of expectation looms into being. A solitary figure bounds purposefully centre-stage and begins to tear into a cycling lyric that seems to nail apocalyptic visions and new hope in the death of pointless religious control.

After one stanza, another taller, muscular man moves to the drum kit bearing a bright flashlight which he rotates onto the singer, Colin Newman, who's now bellowing out the words like his life depends on it, illuminated sporadically as he barks out chewing anxiety of men with wooden masters and lightning striking twice.

An unassuming silver-haired bespectacled man moves with purpose but comparatively little theatricality to a guitar—stage right—straps it on and makes small, almost imperceptible motions, adding slightly to the rhythmic density.

As Colin begins to scream like crazy and really ham it up on the third cycle through 99.9, a shorter imposing hulk takes up a fighting stance—stage left—with another searing flashlight swinging out to blind the entranced throng.

After such a slow, dramatic build-up, Graham Lewis quickly 'basses up' and Robert Grey almost vanishes into a Zen trance, eyes closed in pure beatitude behind his kit.

Wire ignite with Germ Ship, a sleek, drastic, brutalist miniature that spells out a hilarious history of planet earth in four lines and makes a mockery of every 1977 punk band who ever had the tired gall to pull off a reformation stunt. However, guitarist Bruce Gilbert is almost the antithesis of punk-rock energy action, standing motionless facing towards the drums, wrenching some immensely addictive inventive minimal chord progressions from six strings.

The 'new song', Mr Marx's Table, continues the theme of alien visitation, recalling musically a revved-up revamp of 40 Versions, last in the alien god trilogy, too late to pray. The main set takes off with another amphetaminiature—1st Fast—a mini-manifesto in itself that seems like every track off their debut, Pink Flag, rolled into one molten lump and then spat out, extra furious. The ever-expressive Graham Lewis takes the mike for one song, the heavy-metal, wartorn Agfers of Kodack, which bursts into Comet, a hypercomic Ace of Spades bastard-hybrid that gets the crowd pumped up.

In the Art of Stopping is more absurd with Colin crouching over, thrashing at a headless rail guitar with one hand and holding the mike with the other. Colin in particular exudes an excitement that shows he knows Wire are the best they've ever been right now. Spent builds up tension and releases a monstrosity; I Don't Understand powers along with the desperate brutality of the last grenade that broke the warhorse's back. Having torn through all of this year's Read and Burn 01 EP and half of the follow-up, Read and Burn 02, they revisit past glories and polish them to machine chrome precision.

For the first encore, the opening track from their first album is resurrected. They did Reuters almost as a joke in a US sound-check after people mistook Pink Flag for it, but it bounds out as fresh and ominous as the day it was born, grimly appropriate with its doom-laden imagery of war-torn desolation. One word from Reuters sums up the performance perfectly: burning. After that, the funky-and-fun Advantage in Height seems a bit of light relief, even if it is a colossal version. Pink Flag thrashes into the monochord red, Colin cranking up the guitar fuel to burn almost impossibly bright.

They want out but the Berliners won't let them go, banging bottles on the stage and drowning the PA completely. After giving the Lowdown and playing a shape-shifted, cut-up Drill for the first time in a while, Colin insists that they really don't know any more songs. This was the most perfect realisation and transcendence of punk rock imaginable. Wire are taking over the twenty-first century, and making 99.9% of other rock bands seem laughably anaemic.

Graeme Rowland

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