Emerging from London's fecund punk scene in 1976, Wire released three diverse, seminal albums — the brilliantly terse Pink Flag, the pop opus Chairs Missing, and the atmospherically prog 154 — before disbanding in 1980. More influential than popular, Wire's early work was then covered, referenced, and distilled by legions of artists, from Big Black and R.E.M. to Elastica and Fischerspooner. Meanwhile, founding members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert, and Robert “Gotobed” Grey spent the subsequent 20 years focusing on a multitude of collaborations and solo projects, save for a moderately successful regrouping from 1985 to 1992.
In 2000, the members of Wire did something long considered unthinkable, performing highlights from the band's career over several dates, including many tunes from the first three albums. According to Newman (reached via e-mail), those retrospective shows helped Wire reclaim its own history “by filtering its past through a mesh of the present,” proving to the group that it had a future as a relevant and creative entity, as opposed to being a “museum piece.”
This revitalization brings us the current incarnation of Wire, and the release of Read & Burn 01, the group's first genuinely new material in over a decade. This deliberately short EP — six tracks in 17 minutes — is the first in a series of releases via the band's own Pinkflag label. With the Read & Burn series, Wire plans to put out recordings in short order, as opposed to holding them for a full-length. The brief, hard-charging cuts on Read & Burn 01 hearken back to Wire's punkish material, percolated through the outfit's later, more avant aesthetics and edgy production. From “In the Art of Stopping” to “The Agfers of Kodack,” every song clocks in at less than three minutes and features smartly rigid rhythmic pummel, interlocking buzz-guitar riffs, shout-sung lyrics, and repetitive, looping intensity. While objectively judging a new Wire record is a tad problematic — the band set the comparison bar insanely high with its initial LPs — Read & Burn 01 manages to succeed both as a back-to-basics update of the glory days and as a stand-alone release amongst the current crop of '80s revivalists. (Hell, Wire helped invent that stuff.) One might make the curmudgeonly complaint that these tracks are a little too similar to each other and to earlier work, and that the whole thing's just too damn short, but this is some infectious, high-quality stripped-down rock, and it's refreshing to own something not so dauntingly long you shudder to play it twice.
If there's one thing Wire has never been, it's static, so while this current CD is a semireturn to square one, it would be foolish to expect the band to remain there. Wire's current live set is all new material, drawing from R&B 01 and not-yet-released titles. When asked what to expect at Monday's Fillmore show, Newman replied that people wanting to see an invigorated Wire playing an energetic set should attend, adding this caveat: “If they just want to fill in their checklists [of] which songs they saw us play live, then they are better off finding a cover band in a bar.”