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Wire on the Box: 1979 (Pink Flag)

After chopping punk rock down to its artsy bones on 1977's scalding Pink Flag, Wire went in the other direction on the following year's Chairs Missing, adding sinew, gristle, and melody, building unexpected sonic layers from the ground up. Wire on the Box: 1979, the first in a series of archival releases on Wire's own Pink Flag label, catches the band in a performance months after Chairs Missing, though in typical fashion the band had already moved on to the material from their third LP, 154. The performance, captured here on both audio and a frustratingly unchaptered DVD, is a wonderful historical document from Valentine's Day 1979 on the German Rockpalast television show. An added bonus is a quirky/contemplative 20-minute group interview by Alan Bangs. Unfortunately, the performance itself proves the ever-restless group's motto: You can never go back. Without the bold psychedelic flourishes of the Mike Thorne-produced Chairs Missing, which heralded the likes of Joy Division as well as the entire New Wave, this rather skeletal set rings hollow. "I Feel Mysterious Today" isn't so mysterious without the atmospheric incantations. Set opener "Another the Letter" smokes furiously, but the Kraftwerkian synth barrage is noticeable in its absence. On the plus side, the performance brims with punch and fire (akin to 2002's La Zona Rosa clinic), and with decent fidelity to boot. Primary frontman Colin Newman sounds as though he's going to explode on "Practice Makes Perfect." Bassist Graham Lewis barks sharply back to Newman, and throws in his own more pensive vocals for good measure. "Mercy," with its reversible-suction momentum, builds to an impressive Newman-sloganeered crescendo that surpasses the original version. All of which makes On the Box invaluable for Wire heads and post-punk aficionados, but there are far better points of entry into this resilient group's outstanding oeuvre.

**.5

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