An eye, a nose, a mouth, a cup, a bell, a drill…....
In 2002, after more than a decade of quiescence, London’s legendary punk group Wire abruptly reappeared on the scene, looking as vigorous as ever. They unveiled the first two sections of Read & Burn online, which ended up being combined into the CD release Send a year later. At the time, the reunion was seen as a temporary matter, and the band in fact played a “farewell” at the Barbican in London in 2003—this event was titled “Flag: Burning,” which tells you something of Wire’s motivations at the time. (I’ve seen them twice since then, so so much for farewells.)
Read & Burn 01 featured “I Don’t Understand” and “The Agfers of Kodack,” two songs that have become concert staples for Wire ever since, which is significant insofar as it’s quite evident that they dislike singing material from Pink Flag over and over again.
In 2005 Wire released a live album and DVD called The Scottish Play: 2004, which perversely documented not only Wire’s show at the Tramway Theatre in Glasgow in 2004 but also the Barbican appearance from the year before, meaning that a significant portion of the material had nothing to do with Scotland or 2004. (Needless to say, the shows had precious little to do Macbeth either.)
It was still a canny title, however, because the performances, some of which used a stage design by British designer Es Devlin, were “theatrical” and “play-like” in a way that few rock performances had ever been. As Graham Lewis explained to Pop Matters last year of the Barbican event, “The set consisted of four large mirrored cubes across the front of the stage on to / in to which lighting and projections were made. The individual members inhabited a box each.”
This was far from the spontaneous and sweaty rock experience of countless clubs anywhere, and if you’ve seen Wire’s effective yet undemonstrative live shows, it’s not surprising that Wire might be the band to accept such a bold challenge in their live presentation.
Famously, Kanye West was inspired by the footage to contact Devlin for his 2005 Touch the Sky tour, and she’s been much in demand by major pop stars ever since. I didn’t know it at the time, but I saw her conceptions for U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour a couple of years ago. Devlin’s experiences working with Wire were recently featured on the Netflix documentary series Abstract.
In this video (in reverse chronological order) we are treated to a large chunk of the 2004 Glasgow show, which end with four tracks off of Pink Flag; then comes a slab of Send from the 2003 Barbican event with the foursome segregated into Devlin’s curious cubes.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Truly Post-Punk: Suzanne Somers meets Wire on ‘The Late Show,’ 1987