By 1979 the arty, cerebral ‘punk’ collective Wire had released three (now ‘seminal’ and forever ‘influential’) albums (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154) evolving into post-punk in the process. Additionally, unbeknownst to them, they are single-handedly responsible for the introduction of the adjective ‘angular’ being deployed to any post-millennial guitar band (c.f. Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads etc).
Document & Eyewitness – 19789-1980 is a reissue of live performances from the tail-end of their original 1970s incarnation. Contrarily avoiding playing the ‘hits’ and airing predominantly new (under-rehearsed) and seemingly on-the-spot improvised run-outs and fragments of spontaneity accompanied by a series of artistic actions, interventions and interruptions that evolved from an art-based residency in November 1979.
You are hearing a band at a juncture, the end of Phase One yet continuing to progress and with an aversion to stasis. These are the recordings of a band in flux. The result is orchestrated chaos, organised mayhem and anarchic spontaneity, the group subverting conventions like true artists. Playing with form and toying with structure these are brutal sounds and psychically altering. No arts for art’s sake.
‘Underwater Experiences’ is the sound of drowning. ‘5/10’ is Karl Marx’s means of production; factory machines grinding and clanging; industrial noise. The ever-potent ‘12XU’ is angry, thrashing and antagonistic reduced to a near vocal-free snippet with a dismissive ‘I KNOW you’ve been waiting for …’ intro, as if to say you’ve come all this way, waited all this time and paid all this money to listen to stuff you know?
‘Eastern Standard’ has Colin Newman (appearing to) proffer his thoughts on ‘that’ side of the globe drolly uttering ‘The doldrums, Bombay, Australia, I know, eeeurrgh’ … before ruminating on someone’s options workwise, ‘… a follicle with a will to be unhinged … maybe to take up a career in landscape gardening or pursue a career in African music’. It conjures up Brian Eno for some reason. ‘ZEGK HOQP’ is nightmarish gibberish to an electro-tribal beat that evokes Aphex Twin et al.
The one constant is a hostile audience: rebellious, restless and rowdy. Newman’s typically British response to evading a lobbed bottle during ‘Instrumental’ (‘Who’s a silly boy then?’) in contrast to Iggy Pop’s audience baiting and violence inducing on The Stooges’ 1973 album ‘Metallic K.O.’
A far from easy listen and more historical artefact it illustrates a band in the process of shedding the past including their purchasing public; the sound of rejection and animosity to one another and the times. Capturing the discontent of ‘fans’ used to getting what they expect; this stirred a passive audience out if its slumber and captures the band in transition. This is art as performance, performance as art featuring the Dadaist spectacle of the hammering of a gas cooker and a woman pulling two bound men across the stage. Less effective aurally it has to be said.
The tensions that existed within the band would come to the fore not long after and it would be 1987 when ‘Wire’ would resurface. This is a deliberately disruptive artefact of a band that set out to challenge expectations and ‘rip it up and start again’.
This is raucous, rough and as far as closing chapters go; in-your-face. Well, ears.