Crisp waves of psychedelic guitar washed over the audience as Colin Newman, guitarist and vocalist for legendary English band Wire, peered out from under a ballcap. In his soothing accent, Colin sings the cryptic words of “Silver/Wire,” which could perhaps be about making choices for moving ahead (silver) or being weighted down by your past (lead) maybe.
Whichever interpretation, Wire is a band that certainly continues to move ahead *while also* embracing its significant past. And the small but intensely loyal crowd at Black Cat on Monday night wanted it all — silver and lead.
Wire released Silver/Lead, their 16th studio album, via their own Pinkflag label in March, leading them to the late summer US tour that took them again to DC on Monday. The prolific trio of Colin, bassist Graham Lewis, drummer Robert Grey dutifully appeared with “new” member Matthew Simms (the youthful guitarist who has been onboard since 2010 and roughly five albums now) to perform their steady, hypnotic mix of post-punk structures wandering through psychedelic backgrounds. The results made everyone present quite happy.
The crowd received an immediate gift at the start of the show with a performance of “Ahead” from Wire’s 1987 EP of the same name. It was a perfect way to kick off the 18-song set with a catchy, memorable song and its refrain of “I remember; I remember,” capturing Wire when they were most like their post-punk UK contemporaries. Wire waded into the new album by their second song, “Diamonds in Cups.” It’s a smart strategic choice as its tempo and character flow nicely with “Ahead” while also moving the bar on the sound a bit. The song served as a strong showcase for drummer Robert, who entered a trancelike state and attacked his kit with vigor. During the number, Matthew demonstrated well why he fits so well alongside his older bandmates — he’s a consummate professional, engrossed in his guitar. He studied his strings with laser focus as he burned through a song that was nearly one long riff.
Watch Wire perform “Diamonds in Cups” live on KEXP on May 17, 2017, via YouTube:
The new album continued to dominate the set with seven of the 18 songs hailing from Silver/Lead, and that was quite all right with the Black Cat audience. The title track served as the first song of Wire’s encore, and it was followed by “Used To,” a rarely performed track from the 1978 album Chairs Missing, and “Stealth of a Stork,” from 2013’s Change Becomes Us.
With that setlist, Wire again ordered its songs to connect the present to the past and thus create a logical loop of continuity for their excellent guitar-driven sound. “Used To” was a treat indeed, hailing from the same second album that spawned “I am the Fly,” the perennial tune that appears on many compilation albums for “post-punk music of the ’70s” and for which many people likely identify the band (if not for their debut record Pinkflag). “Used To” is the sort of rare treat you want to hear live at a Wire concert as a longtime fan — like everyone at Black Cat on Monday night.
Wire are in New York City tonight and tomorrow for a second and third night of shows at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, then they return to the United Kingdom! Hearing is believing, and seeing it all come together live is understanding. Close the loop with Wire and see them soon.