Behind the Curtain

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Behind the Curtain is a rare beast in two senses -- it's difficult to locate a copy, and it's one of the few archival purgings that extends past cash cow status. The disc begins with several selections from Wire's infamous first show at London's Roxy in April of 1977, a set that was part of a punk festival documented by EMI for the Roxy London WC2 compilation. Humorous, spastic songs like "Mary Is a Dyke," "TV," and "Too True" (try not to double over in laughter during the "chorus" of the latter) are exhausted in little more than a minute; even J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" is whittled down to 90 seconds. For a band making their first stage appearance, they were far from honed, but they were cognizant of their limitations and strengths. After that, the embryos take over, including several songs that never graced an official release until this one. Most of them are of the short and spiky variety. Those not fond of Mike Thorne's production touches might find some of these raw, less-affected versions more palatable, and devout fans will find fascination in realizing the changes made to several of these songs before they rolled off the assembly line. "Another the Letter" is free of the goofy synth whirls heard on Chairs Missing; "Map Ref" is dispassionate and far from the unparalleled bliss it would eventually hit; "Former Airline" is one-third the length of its final version, not a howling drone but another minute-long stinger. Despite the formative nature of these songs, the execution and sound quality still makes for a better listen than most of the officially released material by Wire's peers. If the magic punk-to-post-punk trilogy of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154 had never happened, this disc would be remain reason enough to regard the people who made them as giants, geniuses, and legends.

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