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Wire on the box: 1979

Despite recent efforts, the late 1970s remains Wire's most fondly remembered period. During this time, the band crafted a trio of albums that left fans and commentators breathless. However, live releases were conspicuous by their absence; until now, the only 1970s Wire gigs available were bootleg recordings.

Wire on the box: 1979 is the first of PinkFlag's 'archive research' releases, which is a fancy way of saying 'old stuff repackaged'. This particular set provides us with a newly restored and remastered edition of Wire's infamous Rockpalast performance—the only surviving 1970s Wire television appearance of any real interest.

The gig happened between Chairs Missing and 154, and finds Wire in typically abrasive mood. In front of a polite, but nonplussed German television audience, Wire race through a set of proto-154 numbers and some older tracks, devoid of Mike Thorne's sometimes heavy-handed production. It's testament to the band's creativity and unique vision that the gig still stands up well today and doesn't sound terribly dated, despite it being over two decades old.

Amusingly, the band's on-stage persona seems to be little different from today: Newman a proto-Kraktwerk robot (albeit wearing a tie in those days), barking lyrics, wrestling with his guitar, then twisting like a marionette, dancing in staccato; Lewis flinging his bass around with merry abandon, with eyes that suggest if anyone wants to start anything, he's all-too ready; Gotobed, the metronome—eyes closed, keeping the beat; and Gilbert, at the back of the stage, carefully and purposely adding counterpoint to the Newman guitar.

Although a little bass-heavy, the remixed soundtrack pleases, as does the video, which while having some artefacts and colour distortion, is perhaps as good as you'd expect from a 20-year-old television show. Unfortunately, someone saw fit to ignore one of the main bonuses of DVD: the gig has no track markers whatsoever. We presume that Wire's argument will be something like the gig is a whole entity—a complete performance—and should be watched as such, in one sitting. However, part of the magic of DVD is the viewer having the ability to skip to where they want to. Also, track markers to specific tracks would have made sense, seeing as the DVD retains the original broadcast's rather erratic titling.

Two extras, both desirable, come with this package. The first is an amusing interview conducted with the band after the gig. Wire are their usual obstructive selves, making life difficult for the interviewer and providing succinct, sometimes abstract answers. The video quality of the interview is notably inferior to the gig, but this matters little: the soundtrack is fine, and Gotobed fans will be interested to note that he offers a few well-chosen words part-way through.

The other extra is a CD of the entire gig soundtrack—a nice touch, enabling you to listen to the audio wherever you want, rather than being glued to your TV set. Thankfully, the track marker issue doesn't extend to the CD, which enables you to skip tracks as you'd expect.

Overall, this is a promising start to the archive series. We hope the lack of track markets will be addressed on future releases, such as the forthcoming Send DVD, but the CD is a welcome bonus, and the gig itself still manages to excite after all these years.

Craig Grannell (September, 2004)

Cover artwork