SAN FRANCISCO—It was supposed to be just another rehearsal for Wire Train, but that all changed when a guy from the bar across the street relayed a phone message: There’s a big radio station party tonight. Wanna play?
After a few phone calls to the club and to the band’s sound-man, they decided to do it. But there was still enough time to warm up a bit by running through a few songs from In A Chamber, Wire Train’s debut album on 415/Columbia Records, which they recorded last fall with producer David Kahne.
Guitarists Kevin Hunter and Kurt Herr started the band three years ago when they were both at San Francisco State University. Hunter, with his sharp features and brooding look, is considered teen idol material by 16 magazine. Herr, with beret and goatee, looks like a troubled artist from San Franscisco’s beat past. Drummer Federico Gil-Sola, who moved here from Buenos Aires when he was 12, was a veteran of the city’s punk scene when he joined Wire Train (then called the Renegades) a year ago. Bassist Anders Rundblad auditioned for the band about the same time, but he’d just come from five years of playing rock ‘n’ roll in Sweden.
With a nod from Gil-Sola, they slid into the easy pace of “Never,” Hunter’s song about promises that can’t be kept. “Saturday belongs in silence/ Beside these rooms we sit and chatter endlessly, possessively/ And when she talks her words keep falling/And when she fights with me she fights with meaning and not me” he sings.
“Never” was one of three or four songs Hunter once translated into French as a joke, but he liked it better that way, so he sings it in French on Wire Train’s European EP. which includes “Chamber Of Hellos” and a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul.” After a few more songs they carried their gear out to the sidewalk. While waiting for their ride to Wolfgang’s in North Beach, they were joined by Anita and Lula from the rehearsal studio across the hall. The girls, members of an all-girl rockabilly band, decided to go along for the ride. “Wait a minute,” said Rundblad. “I want a picture.”
Finally unloaded and as ready as they’d ever be to go before the free-drinks-sipping crowd, the band’s two songwriters took a minute to talk about the group’s changes since their early days as the Renegades, when Hunter and Herr scored a Bay Area underground hit with “451.” when it was one of the only three songs they knew. Though they still get requests for “451” at every show, the two cringe at the thought of playing anything from that era. “When we started, it was just a matter of being able to play.” said Herr, who, by the way, didn’t play when he teamed up with Hunter. “We’ve gotten better and our music has changed. The old stuff just doesn’t hold up. We’ve worked hard to have our own sound,” said Hunter. “Any time we’ve come up with something that sounded different from what was already out there, we’ve followed it up.”
Then it was time to go on. Starting off with “Slow Down,” they brought out each song from their album. Filled with hummable melodies over edgy guitar-dominated rhythms subtle in their power, Wire Train’s music may not grab you at first, but it’ll stick with you after a few listens. One of the best songs is “I Forget It All (When I See You),” a charging number punctuated by Rundblad’s cool bass runs. It was written and recorded at the last minute after the rest of In A Chamber was finished.
They ended the set with “Chamber Of Hellos,” on which Herr, obviously a quick learner, pulls fluid sitar-like guitar lines from somewhere up his sleeve. A half-an-hour later, the gear was back in the truck and only a few people were still huddled around the bar at Wolfgang’s, determined to consume as much free booze as their bodies could hold. The aforementioned Lula, all smiles, emerged from the stage door with a hundred or so helium-filled balloons in tow. She doggedly stuffed all but one—it escaped heading toward the Transamerica Pyramid—into the truck, and Hunter, who was sitting on his amp, was buried in the plastic sea of colours. “This is fun,” said Lula.