Wire vaulted over the status quo and managed to return to active duty with integrity uncharacteristic of a punk band.
Gasoline Nightclub (338 N. 8th St.), which is used occasionally by R5 Productions in lieu of a reliable venue, hosted the British group’s first Philadelphia appearance in years last Thursday.
But this was no simple reunion tour.
The original lineup of the four-piece, three of whom sporting shaved heads with bits of gray peeking through, took the stage to perform entirely new material.
Their newest EPs, Read & Burn 01 and 02, marks a return to the attitude that sparked Wire the first time around.
Canonized for expanding the boundaries of British punk in the late 70s, Wire took to dance music in the 80s – a practice that resulted in cutout bins well stocked with Wire CDs.
The band’s new material shows the same approach that produced songs like “12XU.”
The songs are fast and driving, sounding the anger and urgency of a band half their age.
Most rely on a single riff, played loose and dangerous with some electronically produced bleeps and static providing atmosphere, while understated drums hold it all together.
Opening their set with “Spent,” the second track off of Read & Burn 02, lead vocalist Colin Newman, almost confirmed suspicions that this punk reunion was not worth the steep price of admission ($15).
While the monitors pulsed with machine sounds and a steady hi-hat beat, Newman took the stage alone to blurt out the mostly unintelligible lines to the new song.
But even without live musicians, the aged vocalist turned in a performance unapproachable by today’s brand of over-tattooed whiners.
Joined soon after by guitarist Bruce Gilbert, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey, Newman led his band through about a dozen blasts of energy.
Songs simply bled over one and into the other – at no time did the energy subside.
The four played with the confidence of their years, hardly ever looking up from their instruments.
As an encore, the band gave the crowd what it was too respectful to request – songs from 1977’s seminal “Pink Flag.”
Their reworking of the album’s hypnotic “Lowdown” relied on harsh electronic tones where there was once guitar.
The resulting tune came across like a band playing new versions of old Wire songs, not simply an old punk band rehashing their old catalog to appease an audience.
Oxes, an artsy instrumental three-piece from Baltimore, pulled their usual tricks to open the show.
They played their brand of mildly spastic rock and the two guitarists carried on their practice of playing wireless guitars throughout the floor of the venue, into the bar and up in the backstage area.
Drummer Chris Freeland, sporting lingerie, proved inept at provoking much crowd participation.
The audience refused Freeland’s plea to make “the lowest sound possible with your mouth,” instead responding with silence.
Thankfully it wasn’t too long before Wire took the stage.
Wire’s performance was no nostalgic event.
They’re just a great band that happens to have a history.
Richard Charles can be reached at BonSk0t@aol.com.
(All photos by Caitlin Ryan)