Bruce Gilbert – “Instant Shed Vol. 1” (1995)

brucegilbertsubpopOne of the benefits of living in Seattle is that any time I go to the airport I can stop by the Sub Pop retail store.  Usually if I buy something it’s a shirt or a book, but of course the shop sells music too, including vinyl, so I always have to at least take a look.  Last week I was headed out to Grand Rapids, Michigan on a work trip and stopped by Sub Pop to pick up few 7″ singles for a friend’s son, and while there I came across this old (originally released in 1995) 7″ by Wire founding member Bruce Gilbert.  I couldn’t not buy that!

Packaged in a silver foil pouch, Instant Shed Vol. 1 is an interesting little record.  Both tracks are experimental.  “Bi Yo Yo” sounds just like its title, nearly five minutes of the same repetitive beat/pattern, ceaseless hitting you like a dentist’s drill.  The flip side “Byo (Sachet)” is a completely different experience, a minimalistic random collection of sound snipits, something difficult to consider music per se, more just sounds.  Probably not something that I’ll be sitting around one day when I suddenly think, “you know, I’m really in the mood for that Bruce Gilbert Sub Pop 7″ right now,” but it’s still interesting nonetheless.

Wire – “Document and Eyewitness”

I not that familiar with Wire.  I’ve listened to and enjoyed (and written about) their seminal 1977 debut LP Pink Flag, though that’s about it as far as their music goes.  I also read Wilson Neate’s 2013 book about the band, Read & Burn:  A Book About Wire, which I found to be a fascinating look at the inner workings of a band.  I know just enough to be intrigued, which led to me picking up a used copy of the band’s 1981 live double album (technically one LP and one 12″ mini album… but still…) Document and Eyewitness from Seattle’s Georgetown Records the other day.


Now, I think it’s only fair to tell you something about my state of mind as I listened to this for the first time yesterday.  I was in Kansas City this week for work, and getting from KC to Seattle is no easy task as there is only maybe on direct flight a day.  Which I was not on.  Instead I was flying from KC to Dallas, and there connecting to Seattle on Friday afternoon/evening.  Except I was actually spending a lot of time waiting, because Dallas was experiencing Old Testament calibre thunderstorms and tornado warnings.  There may have also been locust and rivers of blood, but the Weather Channel wasn’t reporting on those.  Regardless, after a four hour delay and a turkey sandwich in KC, I made it to Dallas with 15 minutes to get across the airport to make the last flight out of Dodge, staring straight down the barrel of an entire day in airport limbo hell if I didn’t make it.  I maneuvered through the airport like OJ Simpson on those Hertz commercials (not like white Bronco OJ) and made it to the gate just in time… and as a result stumbled into my house at 2AM.  And, of course, was inexplicably awake at around 7AM.  Which was fine for a while, but by time I put Document and Eyewitness on the stereo I had that sort of jet lag/sleep deprivation drunken feeling.

I’m not sure if that hurt, or actually helped.

So anyway, the first record on Document and Eyewitness consists of some live material from a show the band played on February 29, 1980 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden (UK).  Maybe the fact the show was on Leap Day contributed to its overall weirdness.  Neate covers this show and the resultant album extensively in Chapter 5 of his book, and notes that the crowd was not, for the most part, pleased by the type of performance Wire chose to give.  “The atmosphere was ugly from the start, worsening as it became clear that this wouldn’t be a conventional gig.  The crowd didn’t share the band’s artistic adventurousness and, for them, the dearth of familiar, recognisable songs, as well as the disjointed, chaotic nature of the evening, was a sources of irritation and frustration” (Neate, p. 155).  Band members felt there was an undercurrent of pent up, potential violence waiting under the surface, and by all accounts that was the general vibe.  Why?  Because they gave more of an artistic exhibition, only playing a portion of one of their well known songs (“12XU,” which only appears for a few seconds on the record) and instead treated the audience to a sort of musical stream of consciousness.  The fans wanted “Ex Lion Tamer;” instead they got a bunch of stuff they’d never heard before, stuff that didn’t sound like anything on the first three Wire studio albums, or even at times like music at all.

This whole concept of going out of your way to antagonize an audience is something I just don’t get.  Look, I can understand that you get tired of playing the same songs over and over again every night.  But guess what?  I get tired of doing the same spreadsheets over and over again every day, and the people who do the front-line work in the office I work at get tired of making the same phone calls and having the same conversations over and over again day after day.  I mean, it’s your right – you’re the artist, and I paid to watch you perform.  But a little courtesy, please.  After all, I’m giving you my hard earned money.  Help a brother out.

The first two sides of Document and Eyewitness is live material from the Electric Ballroom gig.  I’ll probably never listen to it again.  The recording quality is lackluster (though not as terrible as some reviews indicate), and frankly the music isn’t that interesting.  The second record, however, is comprised of seven live songs performed at Notre Dame Hall and one more from Montreux.  Here we have a more recognizable version of Wire, including previously recorded songs like “2 People In a Room” and “Heartbeat,” as well as some new material.  The recording quality is also better, making the second record a much more enjoyable experience overall.  This one I’ll come back to at some point in the future.  Overall, though, I think Document and Eyewitness will primarily appeal to the hard core Wire fan, and not so much to someone interested in post-punk in general, who would probably get more enjoyment out of the bands studio records.

Wire – “Pink Flag”

Holly and I visited the UK in 2001, and though I wasn’t in music nerd mode at the time I still picked up a book (“Now in the 3rd Edition”!) by Colin Larkin called All-Time Top 1000 Albums.  I’m fascinated by these kind of books.  I mean, coming up with a list of your top five or ten albums isn’t too hard for most people, but how do you decide that Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind ranks #758, one spot ahead of Tattoo You (seriously – that’s where the book has them)?  Anyway, I was particularly surprised to see bands I’d never even heard of in the top twenty.  This was a combination of my complete lack of knowledge about any music that wasn’t classic rock or metal along with the fact that the rest of the wold often has completely different musical tastes than we have here in the old U S of A.

So when thinking about today’s post on Pink Flag by the English group Wire I figured I should see what Mr. Larkin had to say about it.  Well, it turns out Pink Flag is the 535th best album of all time, sandwiched between Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Black and Blue by the Stones, though since this edition of the book came out in 2000 I’m sure it’s moved either up or down the list a bit, somehow getting more or less important.  Then I read this:  “Tracks halt, sometimes abruptly, when the point has been made, creating an ever-changing mélange of sound and texture.”  Um, what the hell does that even mean?  I get the part about halting abruptly, but you lost me somewhere around mélange.  Obviously I have a lot to learn about this music writing thing.

Anyway… my version of Pink Flag was a new re-release that I bought over at Port of Sound Record Shoppe in Costa Mesa a few weeks back.  All the books I’ve read that cover the origins of the punk era mention Wire and Pink Flag (though I don’t think any used the word mélange), recognizing it as an important punk milestone, so it seemed like something I should check out.  And you know, the books were right.

Pink Flag was released in 1977, the same year the Sex Pistols put out Never Mind the Bollocks (#29!), and while both bands are technically punk, they really couldn’t be much more different to my ear.  Pink Flag certainly fits the punk mold, packing 21 songs onto a 36 minute LP, which is impressive and should ensure that you don’t get bored.  Six songs don’t even make it to the one minute mark.  But there’s really no danger of getting bored with Pink Flag.  It’s punk, to be sure, but it’s almost like the guys from Wire moved right past punk, maybe poked around for a second in post-punk, ignored new wave completely, and put out something that sounds like it could have been at home on college alt radio circa 1990.  It sounds way ahead of its time.

This album is awesome.  I caught myself playing the “this song reminds me of…” game, and came up with Icelandic punks Bodies (“Reuters” and “Lowdown”), Talking Heads (“Three Girl Rhumba”), and even L7 (“Feeling Called Love”), but Pink Flag doesn’t sound like anything else… before or since.  My two favorite songs are “Strange” and “12 X U”, while “Fragile” was the track that was by far the most advanced sounding.  Consider – Rollins and Minor Threat, among others, did covers pulled from this album.  That’s high punk praise right there.  If I needed to describe this album using two words they would be aggressive and insistent.

I wrote a the initial part of this post while listening to this album the first time, and I realized pretty quickly that I needed to sit down and just listen to it all the way through a second time before finishing it up (aided by a glass of rye).  I’ve been waiting for an album to get me excited like this again, and Pink Flag gets it done.  And of course it’s on iTunes, so you have no excuse to not listen to at least a few of the tracks I’ve mentioned.  You can mail me a thank you card.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, album #1,000 in Larkin’s book was Todd by Todd Rundgren.  He’s also nice enough to name album #1,001, the one that just missed the cut: Rio by Duran Duran.  All I can say is wow.