On their 1977 debut, Pink Flag, Wire took punk's reductive aesthetic to its extreme. The English quartet used the studio like a belt sander to grind 21 brief songs down to their essential elements: sneering vocals, jagged minimal riffs, and coarse, distorted textures. Two subsequent LPs, Chairs Missing and 154, thrived on the tension between arty experimentation and catchy lyricism, but in 1980 that pressure split the band in two; singer-guitarist Colin Newman and drummer Robert Gotobed collaborated on several records of crisp, sarcastic pop songs while bassist Graham Lewis and guitarist Bruce Gilbert, under the name Dome, made a series of drifting, droning LPs well suited to watching barges rust. The band reunited in 1986 with the promising Snakedrill EP, a remorseless onslaught of grinding guitars and pounding dance rhythms that established the template for the hypnotic live shows of their second coming, but subsequent albums sank in a morass of pompous synths and five-minutes-ago beats. In 1990 Gotobed got sick of triggering drum samples and quit. Given the desultory splinter projects that followed and Wire's decision when they re-formed yet again in 2000 to play tunes from their back catalog--something they'd previously refused to do--I was pretty sure this latest go-around would suck. Boy, was I wrong. Last year they self-released two splendid EPs, both named Read & Burn, that ran 12 songs steeped in Wire's virtues--economy, aggression, tunefulness--through a contemporary filter of digital grime. The stripped-down, amped-up presentation Wire gave these songs in concert at Metro last September was so exciting that the band's been giving a recording of the show to fans who buy Send, a new album comprising mostly remixes from the EPs, through their Web site. Wire's two shows in Chicago are part of a five-date U.S. tour; the Standard opens. Wednesday, June 25, 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. Thursday, June 26, 10 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Fergus Kelly.