By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Celebrating four decades of pushing the boundaries of rock music, legendary British art-punk band Wire brings its current tour marking their 40th anniversary to Slim’s Monday night.
Founded by guitarists Colin Newman and Bruce Gilbert while the pair were attending London art school in 1976, Wire would make its initial mark alongside British punk contemporaries like the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Specs and the Damned, but even then were already making music that would be called “post punk.” The band’s 1977 debut Pink Flag found the quartet (filled out by bassist Graham Lewis and Robert “Gotobed” Grey) bashing out terse, jagged songs that harnessed the propulsion of punk with minimalism and melody. The influential album would launch a legion of American hardcore bands — the Minutemen and Minor Threat both cited Wire as a major inspiration — and point the way for dozens of college rock and Britpop bands that followed in the decades to come.
The group would put out two more groundbreaking studio albums — the more atmospheric, synth-driven Chairs Missing and the moody, noirish gothic pop collection 154 — and the strange concert recording Document and Witness that featured the quartet playing mostly new, unreleased material for perplexed audiences before Wire went on hiatus in 1981 so members could pursue solo careers and side projects.
When the band reconvened in 1985 but completely abandoned its earlier sound, instead moving in a more electronic, dance-oriented direction that some would compare to New Order and Depeche Mode (ironically, two bands that had been inspired by Wire’s initial output). The accessible songs on recordings like the Snakedrill EP and 1987’s The Ideal Copy achieved some chart success and brought the group to a new audience dancing in clubs. Grey would depart the band in 1990, a year before Wire would once again disappear from activity.
The group reunited and returned to concert stages 1999, continuing the band’s idiosyncratic approach by revamping songs from Wire’s entire history during tours on both sides of the Atlantic before recording new material with a pair of EPs in 2002 leading to the album Send the following year. Though Gilbert left the band in 2006, Newman and company have not only soldiered on, the trio of original members (augmented by second guitarist Matthew Simms since 2010) has ramped up its productivity, producing a string of acclaimed, genre-defying albums including Red Barked Tree and this year’s stunning Silver/Lead.
Fresh from hosting Drill Los Angeles — the band’s latest in a series of curated weekend festivals marking 40 years of uncompromising music that featured such luminaries as former Husker Du/Sugar guitarist Bob Mould, rising psych-punk favorites Mikal Cronin and Wand and more — the group comes to Slim’s in San Francisco Monday night. The band is joined by melancholy San Jose-based ambient electronic act r beny.
Monday, April 3, 7 p.m. $25