Interview: Wire Guitarist Colin Newman on the Band's New Live Album, Gear and Plans for the Future
Leaving New York City's Bowery Ballroom last April after Wire's third show in the area in as many days, I overheard a fellow concertgoer remark to his friend, "The show was alright, but it's bullshit they didn't play anything from Pink Flag."
The irony, of course, is that earlier that in the evening, the band had, in fact, played the title track to that very album, only they had stripped the song down to one chord (from the original two) and more than doubled the length.
"When we started again in late 1999, we did sort of a semi-retrospective set," says frontman Colin Newman, "and I came to the sessions with one idea, and that was that we could do 'Pink Flag' with one less chord." He added with a laugh, "There's only two in the original, and I thought we could have one less."
And that's why there are fans of Pink Flag, and then there are fans of Wire.
It's near impossible to not be hooked by the short, artfully crafted tunes on the band's 1977 debut, with Newman and fellow guitarist Bruce Gilbert's angular riffing complimented perfectly by Newman's wry observations on modern life.
While they identified more with the burgeoning punk movement than the litany of bands with art-school pedigrees, Wire inadvertently became the quintessential art rock band of the post-punk era, coming along right at the moment punk had reached the apex of its explosive force and was preparing to collapse right back in on itself.
Wire would cut two more classic albums — 1978's Chairs Missing and 1979's 154 — before abruptly quitting music all together, claiming that their creative well had run dry.
If they had stopped there, their influence on modern music would hardly have been diminished. Their "concept art" approach to rock music was an inspiration to the likes of Sonic Youth, The Minutemen, R.E.M. and countless others, not to mention being an oft-cited influence of the post-punk revival just after the turn of the century that spawned bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party.
Lucky for us, they didn't stay dormant for long, and their recrudescence has seen the band relentlessly attempting to challenge themselves and their fans to explore uncharted waters, whether the results sank or not. Their work — particularly their live performances — often delved so deep into the avant-garde that listeners weren't sure whether to scratch their heads or get in on the joke — if there was one.
But Wire were never about to go out of their way to appease fans who longed for the dissonant thrash of "Reuters." "We've climatized our audience to the idea that Wire isn't going to lay down and just do the old dog tricks," Colin Newman says defiantly.
Whatever their next move, Wire are still content to never repeat themselves.