Tucked away among the shops which border Harvard Yard in Cambridge, MA, The Sinclair is a small, unassuming venue, conjoined next to a restaurant/kitchen of the same name. Here, in the shadows of the Ivy League, UK punk rock revolutionaries, Wire, performed on Saturday, September 23rd.
We found out about the show the day of – invited by a friend of Peter Prescott, whose band Minibeast was opening for Wire that evening. Prescott is best known as the drummer for Boston band, Mission of Burma, but takes the lead as guitarist, vocalist, and keyboard noodler for Minibeast.
In our invite, Wire was described as being at “top of their game.” Hard to believe at first – Wire is about to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first record Pink Flag, which has been almost unanimously hailed by music critics as an album ahead of its time, a genius and greatly influential work of music. While I say Wire are punk rock revolutionaries for how much their music influenced the genre, their sound has crossed a gamut of musical styles – rock, experimental, art punk, post-punk, alternative and even electronic.
The band, however, is probably most known as pioneers of post-punk, pushing the boundaries of punk musicality while the genre was still in its infancy in the late 1970s — forgive the contradiction – developing a proto-post-punk sound, so to speak. Incredibly, Wire’s uncanny forward thinking with Pink Flag appeared to predict the natural progression of punk music as it later evolved in the 80s.
While the band has been around since the 70s, unlike many punk bands of the time, Wire has remained prolific across the decades, with 16 full length albums to date. Their newest record, Silver/Lead, came out earlier this year.
Minibeast, the sole opener for Wire, started their set at 9 o’clock sharp. Minibeast is Peter Prescott’s solo musical project; he writes and records the songs himself, but for the live show he was accompanied by a bassist and a drummer.
This was my first exposure to Minibeast – the songs consisted of minimal lyrics and layered, often times cacophonous, melodies which were structured against the more groovy drums. This combination gave an experimental edge to Minibeast’s psychedelic/surf-punk style. Prescott, at times taking a few steps back from the mic to wail and scream (awesome), combined his guitar playing with an electronic recorder/looper with which he repeated back his lyrical quips over the band’s instrumentation.
One song, “Town Crier” was a callback to 70s folk-rock, with Prescott wailing “BOO-HOO” into the mic. “Town Crier” featured dissonant chords in a sort of parody of the epic folk style. An interlude in another stand out song, “Your Exact Location,” involved Peter requesting audience members to telepathically send him their (wait for it) exact locations.
Check out Minibeast on Soundcloud below:
The drummer for Minibeast, Keith Seidel, stood out as an exceptional musician, and his performance was a highlight of the set.
Wire came onstage a few minutes past 10. The current touring lineup of the band is composed of Wire originals Colin Newman (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass, vocals) and Robert Gotobed Grey (drums) along with newcomer Matthew Simms (guitar).
The band opened with “Ahead” from their 1987 record, The Ideal Copy. They threw in a few older songs, and lead vocalist Colin Newman commented on Pink Flag’s upcoming 40th anniversary. However, they only played one track from Pink Flag — “Three Girl Rhumba” — during the set.
Newman told the audience that they had prepared the set to try to incorporate more of their old songs. Besides “Ahead” and “Three Girl Rhumba,” Wire also played “Small Black Lizard” from Manscape (1990), “Over Theirs” from The Ideal Copy (1987) and snuck “Used To” from Chairs Missing (1978) into the encore. The remainder of the set material came from their newest record, Silver/Lead, along with other releases from 2010 and beyond.
Wire performing “Art of Persistence” at The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA on Saturday, September 23, 2017:
The core members of the band stood still while they played expertly, as if on autopilot; their humble calm acting in contrast to the gravity of their musicianship and influence. Newest and much younger member, Matthew Simms, a left-handed guitarist, was the most active of the group, grooving hard to the songs while he played.
In perfect post-punk fashion, bassist Graham Lewis had tucked a red rose beneath the strings on the headstock of his bass.
I’m not all too familiar with Wire’s discography outside of Pink Flag, a dusty old record I found among my dad’s collection which introduced me to the band, and later, Chairs Missing. I was surprised to find that the highlight of the set was one of the songs off of Silver/Lead, “This Time,” which featured deep vocals from Graham Lewis, and hypnotizing riffs.
Despite coming into the show with only knowledge of Wire’s early releases, the new songs from Silver/Lead that I was exposed to were strong contenders, well composed and immensely enjoyable. I’m starting to believe that perhaps, after 40 years together, Wire may indeed be at the top of their game.