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Pere UbuPere Ubu
The Garage, London
Thursday February 25 2010

 

In any list of Best Albums Ever, you'll usually find Pere Ubu's 1978 debut, The Modern Dance, nestling comfortably mid-table, somewhere between London Calling and something by The Velvet Underground. At least, you will if it's a good list. Pere Ubu, a bunch of wayward garage-punks from Cleveland, Ohio, defined the space between cerebral, tangental art and primal rock 'n' roll. Their first album, with its crazed tumble of ideas and the maverick sweep of its musical and lyrical ideas, effectively invented post-punk at a time when most of their contemporaries were still at the three-chord riff 'n' shout stage.

Fast-forward to today, and they're still at it. Long Live Père Ubu, the band's most recent release, is a collection of songs from their musical adaption of Alfred Jarry's 1896 play Ubu Roi - the source of the band's name. And if musical adaptions of 19th century plays don't sound quite like the sort of thing most rock 'n' roll bands get up to - well, of course it doesn't. But this is Pere Ubu.

Tonight, Pere Ubu have convened in north London to play both albums - their first, and their last - in full. Last one first, so they can end on a romp through the old hits. Mavericks they may be, but Pere Ubu are prepared to make a pact with showbiz to that extent, at least. So, to kick things off, frontman David Thomas adopts the queroulous, demanding, character of Père Ubu, and launches himself into the drama accompanied by the band, who pick their way through the songs from the play with many an odd-angled clank and theremin squawk, ever and anon the integral parts of the Pere Ubu sound.

Theremin player Robert Wheeler dons a giant chicken head - the only prop in use tonight - and, on his knees, beseeches Père Ubu, whose tetchy, dismissive response is only partly kiboshed by the fact that David Thomas has forgotten the words. Without the play itself as a hook upon which to hang the songs, he flounders from one memory lapse to another, until, angry at himself for getting lost in the music, he brings the set to a premature close and stomps off - to genuine applause from an audience that's happy to roll with whatever the Pere Ubu experience brings.

Pere UbuAnd anyway, next it's the rock 'n' roll. A no-bullshit blast through 'Final Solution' opens things up - a song so toweringly thunderous it would be a natural set-closer for most bands. But this is Pere Ubu: they've got plenty more where that one came from. Like, for example, 'Non Alignment Pact', a shrieking, barrelling thing, hurtling along like it's rushing towards the future.

But then, Pere Ubu stumbled on the future long before most other bands got around to noticing it was looming up. These songs, which essentially sprang from the imaginations of a bunch of rock kids from mid-seventies Ohio, still sound so urgent, so in-the-moment, that you'd think the paint would still be wet on their freshly-engineered surfaces.

There's a brief interlude in which David Thomas expounds his self-appointed role as spokesman for that neglected section of society - ageing punk blokes - but the music quickly catches fire again. '30 Seconds Over Tokyo' is a tour de force of ripped-up sonics; 'Chinese Radiation' simply burns. 'Heart Of Darkness' is a nightmare narrative, and in a way gains power now that it's delivered by a battlescarred fiftysomething geezer with a permanently tetchy demeanour - even if, sometimes, possibly, maybe, it's assumed for humourous effect.

Tonight we reinforce what we already know: Pere Ubu are glorious, unrestrained, mavericks. That space between tangental art and rock 'n' roll is still theirs to command. Giant chicken heads optional.


Pere Ubu: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Pere Ubu by name here.

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