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Chicago Tribune
June 13, 2003
Rock legends, back with a vengeance
Greg Kot, Tribune rock critic.

For those of us who came of age in the indie-rock '80s, few bands mattered more than Wire, the Buzzcocks and Death of Samantha. Now all three are back (with Death of Samantha reincarnated as Cobra Verde), and heading to Chicago with boisterous new albums that more than live up to their legacies.

Cobra Verde, Thursday at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, $8, 773-489-3160: Sure, Cobra Verde channels the glam-rock audacity of Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and Lou Reed in his "Transformer" period, with a bit of Stooges bite thrown in for good measure. But at its core the Cleveland quintet is a whip-smart rock 'n' roll band, all big-beat drumming and strafing guitars that would sound galvanizing in any era.

The group is led by John Petkovic, former leader of '80s cult heroes Death of Samantha. Cobra Verde's third album, "Easy Listening" (MuscleTone), distills glam's essence to a few lines from "'Til Sunrise": "Ain't it good to forget who you are?"

In a sense, "Easy Listening" can be heard as the sound of two worlds colliding: daylight doldrums vs. nightlife kicks, the bureaucratic vs. the hedonistic, the music industry vs. Cobra Verde's "Riot Industry."

That conflict mirrors Petkovic's life: By day, he writes a culture column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer; by night, he's the leader of a rock band making music that couldn't be less fashionable.

"Easy Listening" provides a resolution. Here, the glam imperative--"forget who you are," even if only for a few hours a night--gets a distinctly Midwestern, working-class spin that keeps it vibrant.

Wire, June 25 at Double Door, $18; and June 26 at the Abbey, 3420 W. Grace St., $18; 773-478-4408: "It's time to reinvent rock music, which has basically become crap," Wire's Colin Newman told me three years ago. Feisty words, but then Wire fans expect nothing less from their heroes, a British quartet that blurred the boundaries between punk and the avant-garde in the late '70s.

Newman, Graham Lewis, Bruce Gilbert and Robert Gotobed may not have reinvented rock music on their first studio album in more than a decade, "Send" (available via pinkflag.com), but they've certainly given it a short, sharp kick in the behind.

The rushed tempos echo the fidgety sonics of Wire's first album, "Pink Flag" (1977), with vocals, guitars and drums pushed until they crackle with distortion. It's fitting, because on one level "Send" is about the ability of a band to not just keep up with its past, but to transcend it, a challenge raised by "Don't Understand," a track from the band's 2002 EP "Read & Burn": "Your time is up, you've had your chance, you've made your point, get over it."

The opening track on "Send" picks up the theme: "It's all in the art of stopping," Newman announces. Wire made its point twice, first as guitar-bass-drums punks in the '70s, again as a keyboard-heavy combo in the '80s, and stopped abruptly each time, going on hiatus for several years when they felt the music going stale. "Send" marks the third incarnation of the band, and it's the most brutal yet.

At its most minimal, Wire distills "Spent" to a rant, "Read and Burn" to raw rhythm. "The Agfers of Kodack" resurrects the war correspondent from the Wire punk-era classic "Reuters," this time as an exploiter rather than a victim: "A love of the camera; a stomach for slaughter/Fresh from the front: our favorite reporter." In the weeks after our latest televised war, the message and the band couldn't be more timely.

Buzzcocks, June 20 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., $18.50; 773-549-4140: The Buzzcocks were the great Brit pop-punk band of the late '70s, releasing a string of hard, fast and ultra-melodic singles such as "What do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen in Love?" Then they took 10 years off, only to pick up right where they left off with the "Trade Test Transmissions" album in 1993. "Buzzcocks" (Merge), the fourth album in the quartet's new incarnation--founding members and primary songwriters Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, plus bassist Tony Barber and drummer Philip Barker--is its best since its punk-era heyday, with 12 songs zipping by in 35 minutes.

Shelley always had a gift for singing about everyday affairs with flair, and here he turns a phone conversation ("Jerk") and a hangover ("Morning After") into indelible songs. Diggle's police-siren guitar riffs and windmilling chords have lost none of their spark. The intro to "Lester Sands" should come with a warning attached: "May induce uncontrollable fits of ecstatic pogo-dancing."

Green Day, Blink-182, Sum-41--they've got nothing on these guys. As shots of musical adrenaline go, the Buzzcocks improbably remain unsurpassed.

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