Wire, The Black Session – Paris, 10 May 2011
Balancing their experiments with pop immediacy
Thirty-five years on from 1977′s post-punk benchmark, Pink Flag, Wire have hit another indisputable purple patch. 2003′s gnarly Send album ended a decade-long silence in a squall of gleefully streamlined feedback, but the subsequent departure of guitarist Bruce Gilbert from the original quartet resulted in a brief wobble (to wit: ’08′s patchy Object 47). Luckily, the ship was steadied and re-fuelled for last year’s Red Barked Tree, an all-cylinders-firing triumph to rank easily alongside those late-’70s masterpieces.
In its wake, Wire toured throughout 2011 in an extra-confident mood, with Gilbert replaced by Matt Simms. By the time they rolled into Radio France’s theatre for one of Bernard Lenoir’s legendary Black Sessions, they were audibly, as this resultant live document proves, in peak fitness. With typical contrariness, they kick off, not with a high-speed crowd-pleaser, but with Colin Newman’s minor-chord meditation, “Adapt.” Thereafter, however, they’re soon rocketing off with a warp-speed “Comet,” and a smoldering, rage-themed “Smash.”
This ping-ponging setlist is testament to Wire’s genius in balancing their experiments with pop immediacy. Graham Lewis’s “Please Take” mixes lyrics of bitter, back-stabbing hatred with the sweetest and most uplifting of melodies, while Newman’s ’80s-era gem, “Kidney Bingos,” makes shimmering sublimity out of his word-association gibberish. The ever-influential band’s ornery sensibility is such that they’d never stoop to churning out what, for them, constitute “the hits,” so you won’t find many here. Instead, The Black Session finds them leavening a supercharged selection from Red Barked Tree with a few choice cuts from yesteryear, including the exhilarating 1979 single “Map Ref 410N 930W,” and a squalling, angsty “Two People In A Room.” In the encore, “Pink Flag” (the song), the needles finally dip into the red for keeps, amid the kind of axe-bludgeoning mayhem which would send many bands 30 years their junior running for cover.