Wire is still electric

More than 30 years in, post-punk band rolls on

Singer-guitarist Colin Newman and Wire played the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday. Singer-guitarist Colin Newman and Wire played the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / April 5, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — If we adhere to the old adage that everyone who heard the Velvet Underground started bands, and everyone who heard Big Star became rock critics, then it follows that those caught in the crosshairs of Wire’s landmark 1977 album “Pink Flag’’ were left scrambling to figure out, and fuse for themselves, the English band’s alchemy of punk disdain and art-school minimalism. Just in time, of course, for Wire to radically shift its sound on subsequent albums, and toss old inclinations for new compulsions completely.

It’s a bit incongruous to equate a group whose early songs frequently never crossed the two-minute mark with longevity. And yet, more than 30 years on, Wire’s kinetic, almost architectural approach to song structures, coupled with those restless surveys and deconstructions of textural noise, and various electronic/industrial musics, all add up to a band that basically invented and enabled post-punk. There’s a reason why Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott was watching intently from the audience at the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday, as the band sent shards of what sounded like aural sheet metal slicing and sailing on “Drill.’’ “I live for Wire!’’ Prescott told me, smiling but serious. He wasn’t the only one.

Sunday evening, those of us who packed the place were treated to a nearly two-hour, two-encore overview of a band whose music rarely stopped moving, swerving, and splintering into new atoms of energy, even as its makers — singer-guitarist Colin Newman; bassist-singer Graham Lewis; drummer Robert Grey (formerly Gotobed); and touring guitarist Matt Simms — remained strangely placid executioners.

Newman in particular was his distinctively dry, droll-delivery self on “Comet,’’ which opened with a long, gathering rumble of feedback before giving way to an explosion of sound into the sky. The momentum soon transmogrified into “Smash,’’ with its rallying cry to “crash at random. . . . Rage! Rage! Rage!’’

Wire is touring behind its 12th and latest album, “Red Barked Tree,’’ which is less overtly essential and turbulent, but quite a bit prettier in places, than its earlier work. On new numbers like “Please Take’’ and the first encore’s opener, “Down to This,’’ the outfit used its still-sinewy muscles to stretch rather than coil. Still, the very first line of “Down to This,’’ carried a casual request among the warmly strummed electric guitars and interlocking rhythms to “please take your knife out of my back. And when you do, please don’t twist it.’’

Weekend, another satellite from San Francisco’s bright and burgeoning echo chamber-pop universe, opened with a strong, supple set of reverb-soaked psych-rock and Bailter Space-age bliss.

Jonathan Perry can be reached at


With Weekend

At: the Middle East Downstairs, Sunday