Wire played at the Black Cat on Thursday night for an adoring crowd of older fans and hardcore music geeks. They are touring on their excellent new album, “Red Barked Tree”. The new album was featured heavily on Thursday night, but Wire also offered up a sampler of the many phases they have gone through in their 30+ years career. The show was an interesting blend of energy levels and quality as the many sounds of Wire don’t always fit neatly next to one another. This was my first time seeing Wire in concert; while I walked away satisfied by the show, it was not the knock-out performance I was expecting.
If Wire will be remembered for one thing, it will be that they always did things on their own terms. One of the most important bands in the punk to post-punk transition, Wire harnessed the energy of ’77 UK punk to fuel their strange creations. Along with peer-bands like Magazine and Joy Division, they helped herald in a new era of unconventional sounds. Never satisfied being pigeonholed by the critics as “this type of band” or “that type of band”, Wire shifted gears many times over the years. From punk to post-punk to pop to industrial and so on, Wire were and still are always in a state of flux. While this is the thing that makes Wire such a satisfying and exciting band to listen to at home, I’m afraid it held their live show back a little bit on Thursday.
One thing I loved about this show was how much material from “Red Barked Tree” that Wire played. I think their new album is fantastic and really enjoyed the extended treatment it got during the show. ‘Please Take’, ‘Moreover’, and the title track were particular highlights of the new songs played. I was expecting Wire to play a show that would cater more toward their historical fan-base with just a few selections from the new album. For me the perfect scenario would be a set that mixed the new album and songs from their first three exclusively. We didn’t get quite that, but it came close enough for me to really enjoy most of the set.
It was mainly the inclusion of songs from “A Bell is a Cup…Until it is Struck” that turned me off. Each time they dipped into this weirdo pop album I thought Wire sounded like one of those really bad, L.A.-based bands in the 80’s, that movie studios rolled out to record horrible closing credits pop-songs. Not all experiments are going to succeed and I wish that Wire had swept these bad 80’s tunes under the carpet rather than showcase them. The live double shot of ‘Silk Skin Paws’ and ‘Kidney Bingos’ was almost too much cheesy lameness for me to take.
It was really when Wire played their classic tunes that the show was the most interesting. Not just because these songs have a legendary status but also because they were when the band played with the most energy and skillful chops. It was obvious from the crowd’s reaction to them that the guitar playing on ‘Map Ref…’, ‘Two People in a Room’, ‘106 Beats That’, ‘Underwater Experience’, and ‘Pink Flag’ was really what most people had paid to hear. The band showed-off dazzling proficiency and fierce energy playing inspired live versions of these 30-year old songs, that made them sound as exciting and innovative today as they did in the late 70’s and early 80’s.