Four words that might sum up the career and output of temperamental British "art punks" Wire: "We don't do requests." Those were the sentiments of bassist Graham Lewis right before an encore at this 1979 show caught here on DVD (with an accompanying CD), the band's only full performance of the era in existence. A band more often name-dropped than actually listened to (at least on this side of the Atlantic), Wire thrived on experimentation, leaving devotees fumbling to stay current. The band even pulled its own plug after just three records, respectably claiming to be "out of ideas." But what a trio those records are: Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing and 154 (1979).
Released through their own Pink Flag label, On the Box finds Wire on the German performance program RockPalast and at the height of the group's impenetrable powers. Running through a majority of Chairs Missing and 154 (which hadn't even been released yet, much to the chagrin of the befuddled German audience) with venomous precision, front man/guitarist Colin Newman jerks like a puppet and essentially lays down a blueprint for the likes of Thom Yorke a decade later; Lewis plays his still-inventive bass hooks with weathered aloofness; guitarist Bruce Gilbert is an ice block adding accents to Newman's lead; drummer Robert "The Human Metronome" Gotobed clicks and pounds with sticks as scalpels.
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This is not a posthumous show. The Wire seen on this DVD may be no more, but the elegant pop group that re-formed in the '80s and the noisy unit of angry robots assembled post-millennium feature the same members, and if the sounds don't match, one thing does: They still don't do requests.