WIRE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (September 15). $17.50. 416-532-1598.
THE MEKONS with Howdy's Brother at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (September 16). $15. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
In the UK punk class of 77, wire and the Mekons were the two bands that seemed least likely to succeed. Yet however musically inept and frustratingly oblique they were initially, each group has created a significant body of work that's much broader and more formidable than that of the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Now 25 years on, what's most impressive is that neither Wire nor the Mekons show any signs of settling for cheap nostalgia. Instead, they're determined to change with the times, not passing fashion, whether their audience is with them or not.
In Wire's case, Colin Newman and crew began a few steps ahead of the rest of the crowd and never looked back.
While Elastica were trying to liven up their Britpop sound during the mid-90s by copping ideas Wire had tossed off some 18 years earlier (Elastica's Line Up and Connection rip off Wire's I Am The Fly and Three Girl Rhumba respectively), Wire were already past their guitar phase and on to the next shit.
Which is what makes Wire's recent release, the scorching six-song Read & Burn 01 EP (Pink Flag), so intriguing. They've put aside the computers and synthesizers and picked up the guitars again to cut loose with frenzied bursts of high-wattage action.
More than just hard and fast pummelling, the music has a sense of urgency and vitality that makes it sound remarkably of the moment in a way Wire rarely have before.
"That material is actually two years old," Newman deadpans, his characteristic wit as sharp as ever at 9 am. "But there's an external reason behind the sound.
"We were invited to play the All Tomorrow's Parties festival curated by Mogwai and, as you might expect, it was really a festival of slowness. The second we started playing our faster songs you could see a ripple through the audience. People took to it immediately, like, "Fuckin' hell, yeah!'
"This was April 2000, long before anyone in Britain had heard of the Strokes, but it seemed obvious then that people had had enough of slow and needed fast."
Since then, Wire have gone ahead to record more material in a similarly quick and relatively dirty fashion -- live to DAT -- which they've already split off into a second Read & Burn EP. That record suggests they may already be moving ahead of the Adult and Liars crowd they inspired.
A selection of the songs from the Read & Burn series will appear on a full-length disc sometime next year, but for the moment they're making their music available at shows and through online mail order (www.posteverything.com/pinkflag) rather than regular retail outlets, as quickly as they record it.
"The whole point of Read & Burn is that it's about now. There's a certain time when something makes sense in the culture, although it may very well be a year later before the masses catch up."
There appears to be very little threat of mass appeal for Wire. Sure, their songs are often tuneful and even quite catchy, but lyrically they remain far too obscure for lowest-common-denominator connection. But it's not like Wire ever really wanted to be pop sensations anyway.
"We've had a change in attitude about how we use words. In the past I'll admit that Wire have been guilty of lyrical pretension. It's good when there's a high level of absurdity involved, but mostly it just sounds pompous.
"We're moving toward more directness, but still I doubt you'll ever hear too much girlfriend-leaving-type stuff from us."
Don't count on hearing any songs off Pink Flag, Chairs Missing or the 154 album either. As usual with a Wire show, you get exactly what they want to give, and that doesn't include the oldies.
"We're just playing stuff from our Read & Burn series along with some other things that haven't yet been designated with Read & Burn status. For each of the four shows we've done this year, the response has been fantastic -- much stronger than we've ever experienced before.
"So if anyone reading this is coming to see some old geezers reliving their past, don't bother. That isn't going to happen. That's not Wire."email@example.com