Better Than: Sitting on your fire escape with a pint of ice cream after work, moaning about the humidity outside.
“Hot enough out today?” quipped Wire bassist Graham Lewis to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom. Clutching their sweating beers and cheering, the crowd was nonplussed by the balmy outdoors. The seasoned British rockers too were unfazed by the elements and wasted no time in throttling the venue.
The foursome immediately broke into slow-burner “Marooned”, barely after walking across the stage. More of an interlude than a banger, the song effectively began to seduce an already captive audience for a very special night ahead.
Wire have spent 30 years and counting perfecting their razor-sharp craft. Rarely do you encounter musicians with the fluidity that Lewis and songwriter/guitarist Colin Newton possess — delivering wonderfully warped songs that don’t rely on sheer volume to stake their claim. The post-punkers have now mastered the careful art of restraint, unleashing their jagged songs in spurts instead of full-on freakouts, guiding along the crowd hand-in-hand for the unexpected emotional swells in between. The boys are clearly still having a great time performing, even relishing playing their earliest numbers like the spaced-out “The Boiling Boy,” and ever the crowd-pleasing shredder “Pink Flag.”
Excitement is an anomaly if you’ve ever been to a New York show full of pretenses. Yet no crossed arms or blase stares could be seen. Nodding twenty-somethings stood in unison next to older couples humming along to “Re-invent Your Second Wheel,” together transported to other worlds persisting in their memories. A fellow even stood alone on the balcony, his arms either flailing in a running-man punch or a victory pose toward the heavens.
Pink Flag, Wire’s acclaimed debut, flew victoriously into existence at a time when punk was reeling through England’s art school scene in the ’70s. The songs, now nearly forty years old, are still gristly enough to rustle listeners today. Wire’s latest album Change Becomes Us (2013), which constituted the majority of the set, dips its toes in various elements as well: you can hear the hazy reverb of guitar echoes (“Attractive Space”) and Talking Heads-era post-punk (“Doubles and Trebles”) without ever deviating from thrashing rock n’ roll roots.
Wire’s most steady weapon, though, is their grasp on clever lyricism, a careful balance of playful and wry. The possible entendres in “Magic Bullet” extend beyond the name; live, “Out of my debt/Over my head” sounded eerily like “Out of my bed/over my head.” The one critique is that Newman’s vocals could have been turned up higher. At especially raucous points in the set, lyrics were drowned out completely in the place of whirring guitars.
Save for a murmur or two into the microphone, the band rarely interacted with the audience, allowing the music to breathe its own phrases. Wire has found a style they’re comfortable with, one that barrels onward with punchy punk sensibilities and a riveting emotional core. A dizzied Newman, visibly swept up by sound, exclaimed near the end of the set: “I’m feeling mad!” He wasn’t alone.
Critical Bias: This writer has a severe, go-weak-in-the-knees penchant for post-punk.
Overheard: “I really like this band. They remind me of The Strokes … but like a prototype.”
Random Notebook Dump: Apparently it’s date night?