On Stage: Wire still showing spark after all these years

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Those who work with electricity know that when dealing with wire, it’s better to assume it might be live even if it appears to be dead.

The same can be said for music fans when dealing with the British band Wire, which is headlining a show on March 10 at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org)

There have been times when it appeared as if Wire was totally dead but, more often than not, the band has come to life and shown that it is still carrying a full charge.

Since coming together as a band in London in 1976, the members of Wire have maintained and advanced a musical project which treats the creative potential of a rock band as a flowing, shapeless medium. Wire has always striven to question every aspect of song writing, recording and performance.

In terms of working together as Wire, the group’s members disbanded in 1980, reformed in 1985, disbanded in 1992 and reformed for the second time in 2000. The group initially reworked much of its back catalogue for a performance at Royal Festival Hall in 2000. Wire’s reception during a short tour in early May of the US, and a number of UK gigs, convinced the band to continue.

Two EPs and an album – “Send” (2003) – followed. A full-length album of new material entitled “Object 47” was released in 2008. In 2011, the band released ‘Red Barked Tree.” Two years later, Wire released “Change Becomes Us” followed by “Wire,” was released in 2015 and “Nocturnal Koreans” in 2016.

In 2017, the year of the band’s 40th anniversary, Wire — Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey, Matthew Simms — released it 15th studio album, “Silver/Lead,” a set of songs that encompassed the menacing widescreen grandeur of ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ and the breakneck-paced guitar pop of ‘Short Elevated Period’. Yet despite the anniversary, the album had nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future.

“We were really pleased with the success of ‘Silver/Lead’,” said Newman, during a phone interview last week as the band was travelling from Chicago to a gig in Nashville.

“What’s happened over the last 10 years – pretty much everything has been well-received. People have realized that we’ve been making really solid music for a long time. It has taken them a while to wake up.”

The band’s 17th – and latest – album “Mind/Hive” was just released on January 24 on Wire’s own Pinkflag label. The band also kicked off the new decade with a U.K. tour of sold-out shows. Meanwhile, Record Store Day 2020 marks the release of “10:20,” which sees Wire collecting together a mix of unreleased songs and new interpretations of older pieces to create an album as essential as any in its catalogue.

“We started making the album in September 2018,” said Newman, who has been living in the British seaside town Brighton for the last five years.

“Typically, I’ll come to the session with some songs and then we’ll work on them together. It’s my tunes and Grant’s lyrics. Then, I take the tracks to Brighton and work on them in my studio. After that, I’ll add the vocals.

“Because the album is on a label which I run, the process starts with a release date and works backwards. The production process isn’t necessarily quick – and it shouldn’t be. It takes time.”

“Mind Hive” received rave reviews and career best sales. Wire’s back catalogue is studded with influential epoch defining works. Last year saw the reissue of their ground-breaking first three albums: “Pink Flag,” “Chairs Missing” and “154.” These were voted amongst the top reissues of the year (Rolling Stone at no.10, Uncut at no.12 and Select at no.3).

Now, “Mind Hive” arrives at a time when Wire is being cited as an influence by yet another generation of bands. The veteran rockers are also the subjects of a career spanning feature documentary called “People in a Film,” which is set for release late 2020.

Wire has been described as a punk band, a post-punk group and art-punk band. Newman scoffs at all the labels attached to the band.

“We’ve never been a punk and I don’t know what post-punk is,” said Newman. “As far as we were concerned, we never considered ourselves punk.”

What Wire is – without question – is a band with amazing longevity. Wire’s first album, “Pink Flag,” was released in November 1977 by Harvest Records.

“There was no concept of longevity with this kind of music in the 1970s,” said Newman. “It was completely unpredictable. We weren’t mates when we started. We were five very dissimilar characters. It’s been an artictic expression. That’s what we were interested in.”

When asked the key to Wire’s longevity, Newman, replied, “I don’t know. Like any set of people, we have our moments. The situation we’re in – with pout own label, we have a lot of control. We have a lot of options other bands don’t have. It gives us some kind of power.

“We own our catalogue from the 70s. Actually, we won the most important eras – the 70s and from 2000 on.”

Video link for Wire — https://youtu.be/iZbFZ6e0cw4.

On March 10, Underground Arts will host Wire’s 2020 tour which features Wire along with a different member of Wire DJing each night. The show will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25.

The Dales

At MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com), a different music vibe from the 1970s will be featured  — the California country rock/Americana/Topanga Canyon music performed by the L.A.-based band The Dales.

The Dales — Drew Lawrence, Kyle Vanes, Preston Pope, Blake Paulson, Jackie Tozzi – are touring in support of their new album “Easy Times,” which is the follow-up to their acclaimed 2018 debut album, “Marie.” The new LP features a sense of optimism and exuberance which offers an antidote for troubled times.

“The album dropped on January 10,” said Lawrence, during a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “We did it in L.A. and produced it ourselves.

“We tried to do an EP with a producer earlier and it didn’t work out. It was too heavy. The instrumentation was fighting with the vocals. We were mixing and the mixing just wasn’t right. It was a heavier sound – more electric.

“I have a home studio and so does Preston. We’re both engineers and produces in addition to being in the band. So, we decided to do it ourselves.

“We started from scratch. It had been a year-and-a-half since our last album came out. The first few songs we released from ‘Easy Times’ were well-received. The new album is clearly Americana.”

With “Easy Times,” The Dales had better vibes – and a better line-up.

“During the recording of the shelved album, there was some tension in the line-up with the band,” said Lawrence. “Two members left, and we got a new member – Jackie Tozzi.

“It brought a lot of new excitement into the group. That’s why the concept was ‘easy times.’ With the old line-up, the band was in a tense period and it showed in the music.

“Me and Preston have been playing together for 12 years and our drummer Blake has been in it since Day One. We went to college together at Berklee School of Music in Boston.”

Produced by The Dales, “Easy Times” is, as Lawrence describes it, all about affirmation and encouragement, a soundtrack that urges the listener to get on with the business of life and not get bogged down in disappointment and hard times.

“It’s Americana and the genre is open for us,” said Lawrence. “It’s grassroots – just us playing for folks. It has longevity.

“Our first album was recorded in Washington State. The tome was about loss and heartbreak. With ‘Easy Times,’ we wanted to focus on good times.

“We already have another body of work ready. We’re going to go to Topanga canyon to make the record. We’re already playing a bunch of these songs live.”

Video link for The Dales — https://youtu.be/TMQdJil522E,

The show at MilkBoy Philly, which has Camille Peruto as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Ben Cooper

Ben Cooper started making recordings just after the turn of the century, took a few years to get really into it and now has been going strong for almost two decades.

Recording and performing under the name Radical Face, Copper has released close to 20 albums and EPs, more than a dozen videos and a slew of singles.

On March 11, Cooper will visit the area to headline a Radical face show at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

“Music was  one of those things that was always there when I was growing up – going back all the way to grade school, to second grade,” said Cooper, during a recent phone interview as he travelled between gigs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

“My favorite tape back then was the Doors. Then in the early 90s, I got into indie rock – bands like the Pixies. I found out they were recording on four-tracks.

“When I was in high school, I came out when I was 14 – and got kicked out of the house. I was taking care of myself. I was playing in five bands – sometimes on instruments I didn’t know how to play.”

Coming out as an early teen didn’t make for easy times for Cooper as his hometown of Jacksonville was a little bit of Dixie in Florida.

“I knew I needed to move,” said Cooper, who eventually relocated to Los Angeles. “A lot of bad things happened over a few years. When it was done, I knew I had to leave.”

“Playing music was something I wanted to do. Then, I realized bands weren’t good arrangements – like being married without getting laid. I wrote two books, but my hard drive crashed, and I hadn’t backed them up. So, I lost them – one-and-a-half years of work.”

So, it was back to “Plan A” for Cooper.

“I got back into recording,” said Cooper. “I just wanted to make songs. Eventually, that worked.”

Cooper’s first album to be recorded under the Radical Face pseudonym was “The Junkyard Chandelier.” The album was never formally released but has since been available as a free download online.

“My first record was ‘Junkyard Chandelier’ in 2002,” said Cooper. “It was only ever up on a website. I never sold it. I’d just mail it to the fans who asked for it. ‘Ghost’ was the first record that was on a label.”

“Ghost” was the first official studio album, released by Radical Face in March 2007. Cooper is now touring in support of the “Anniversary Deluxe Reissue of Ghost” which was released last year via Bear Machine Records. For the anniversary re-release of “Ghost,” Cooper has included reinterpretations of original tracks for the album as well as a completely remastered the original version of the album by the legendary Greg Calby.

Radical Face’s cult classic “Ghost” has been streamed more than 150 Million times on Spotify alone, has been featured on numerous TV shows and movies such as “Weeds,” “Blacklist,” “Skins” and “Humboldt County.” The song “Welcome Home, Son” was the theme song for Nikon globally for eight years.

In January, Cooper followed up the album with the release of a single titled “Reveries.”

“The song ‘Reveries’ just fell out of the mixing on an album,” said Cooper. “It didn’t fit.”

According to Cooper, “Whenever I am working on a record, I always stumble onto songs that I like as individuals but don’t work for the larger concept. Something about the mood, the lyrics, or the production makes it an odd fit. In the past, I would stop working on those songs once I recognized this, or I’d finish the recording and just shelve it. I’ve decided to go about it differently this time and just release them as singles along the way.

‘Reveries’ is the first of these. There are already others. And as for the track itself, it covers a similar theme, I guess. It’s about people that don’t quite fit together anymore, but there’s no anger or resentment in it. It’s a drifting apart, not a breakup. And while you still care about each other in your ways, it’s time to move on, and neither party owes the other anything.”

Radical Face fans who want a special edition of the “Ghost” re-issue need to get to the merch table at the show early.

Cooper issued the following statement, “As far as the vinyl release of this goes, I am not going through standard distribution channels. It will only be available on my website in a limited quantity, and then I will have 20 per show on this tour. And that’s it.

“I am keeping these releases a bit smaller, because I am back to fronting all the production costs myself, and storing them for tour and such, so I have to be pretty reasonable. But I wanted to give anyone who might want one a heads up, because I know finding out after the fact can be kinda frustrating if you like to collect records. I’ve been bit by that one myself.”

Video link for Radical Face – https://youtu.be/boxswWcFdP4.

The show at World Café Live, which has Axel Flóvent as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26.

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