IN 1977, Wire recorded the perfect punk album, Pink Flag. Each song on the record lays out what it has to do in the minimum amount of time necessary. If there is a great chord progression, the band plays it once, then stops. No need to repeat themselves. Wire were an exhilarating, cheeky counterpart to the exquisite depths of Joy Division (their only contemporary in the same weight class). Pink Flag is the most fun of any of the great monuments of that age of giants.

Having laid down the blueprint for every faster-harder-smarter band from Minor Threat to Big Black, Wire turned their backs on all they had conjured up over the course of their next two records, and after that set out for territory that bordered on the incomprehensible. The band became better known in the art world for their installations than they were in the musical subculture they had a large part in inventing. The records they still made grew stranger and stranger. However, no matter how obtuse Wire can get, they are never boring, always remaining fixated on the textural pleasures of pure sound. The high point of these explorations was 1988's ambient, danceable A Bell Is a Cup until It Is Struck, a record that seemed terribly difficult until the rest of the world caught up 10 years later, by way of bands as disparate as Massive Attack and Gastr del Sol.

After abbreviating to Wir in the early '90s with the temporary withdrawal of Robert Gotobed, the collective is whole again. This is probably not an oldies tour, though; their catalog by now is too eclectic to give any idea of what we'll be getting. Since these are four of the smartest people ever to pick up instruments, it's bound to be a rare and fascinating experience.

Hovercraft are the ideal opening act for this show -- a band who, with their instrumental scores and hypnotic film collages, generate a hyper-intense, primal vibe. At Bumbershoot last year they had 500 teenagers howling in appreciation of what was, basically, a musical lecture on the related social structures of humans and insects. Not bad for art rock.