Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Wire at South Street Seaport, NYC 5/30/08

A pounding, hypnotic, energetic show, revealing the seminal British punk/new wave band none the worse for the thirty years since they played their first New York show at CBGB in 1977. If anything, the prototypical art-school punks are more minimalist than they were three decades ago when their highly influential debut album Pink Flag came out. Running their guitars through a labyrinth of digital reverb and delay effects, they roared through almost an hour of the “modernist deconstructed rock distanced from the form” or whatever bullshit their website says their music is about. Like so many of their punk contemporaries, they weren’t the greatest musicians, but their uniquely eerie melodicism was matched by an equally quirky sense of humor: frontman Colin Newman’s off-key, semi-shouted nonsequiturs have always imbued with a very subtle, very British sense of fun, something their legions of imitators (REM, said Michael Stipe, would never have existed without Wire) have been oblivious to. This wasn’t the original unit: they now have a woman (not Justine Frischmann) serving as the second guitarist, and her aggressive, noisy playing is just what this band needs to keep the old songs sounding fresh.

The set they played last night spanned the group’s entire career, from the barely ninety-second 106 Beats That, from Pink Flag, to a long, pummeling, danceable number that hung on the same chord for about four minutes as the overtones from the guitars built a seemingly impenetrable wall. A lot of Wire’s songs make great dance music, but, predictably, the surprisingly small crowd scattered around the stage didn’t move a muscle. Although, as one concertgoer remarked, it was a totally 90s crowd in all the best ways, a refreshingly diverse mix of gay and straight, old and young, with hardly a $300 bedhead haircut to be seen anywhere.

“You haven’t taken the opportunity to see the Eagles,” Newman noted (apparently the El Lay schlockmeisters were in town: who knew?). Some things never change: Wire’s subtly biting, percussively optimistic tunes remain just as much of an antidote to top 40 as they were three decades ago.

“I’m going to get epilepsy up here,” said bassist Graham Lewis, imploring the light person to be a little less creative. Otherwise, they didn’t say much, hitting the audience with one song after another, flailing away through several of their signature, sudden, cold endings. The last of their encores was a song they’d played at that first CBGB show, inbued with all the energy and intensity that one could hope for from a band from that era.

The next stop of the evening was Crash Mansion, that tourist trap on lower Bowery where El Jezel were playing the release show for their new cd The Warm Frequency. Word on the street is that it’s excellent, the album that Portishead should have made this year but didn’t. Sadly, it didn’t take long to figure out that the bands were running way, way behind schedule. Surrounded by the entire cast of the O.C. (or what looked like it, anyway) and with plenty of booze at home, the choice was clear. But you should see El Jezel sometime – they play around town at least once a month.

May 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment