It must be an old alternoheads' benefit night tonight. Unexpectedly cropping up in support to Pere Ubu, who themselves bestride thirty years of alternative rock like a strangely shaped colossus, we have Stan Ridgeway, ex-of 80s cactus caterwaulers Wall Of Voodoo. These days, like his old mucker and sometime collaborator Frank Black, Stan Ridgeway seems to be moving in an alt-country direction with his solo work. That doesn't mean we're in for a set of yee-haw cliches, but it does mean that everything in tonight's set taken at an easy, bar-band pace, with much twingling and twangling from acoustic guitars, and even some (synthesised) accordion and fiddle to lend a bit of down-home colour to the music.
Stan himself is in fine voice, even if he does look like your eccentric geography teacher in his rumpled suit - although I see that, for new wave old times' sake, he's wearing a skinny tie. His colourful story-songs lend themselves well to the alt-country idiom, but it's the old Wall Of Voodoo numbers 'Call Of The West' and 'Mexican Radio' - unusually for Stan Ridgeway, more a collection of imagery than a narrative, and here given a woozy Tex-Mex treatment - that do it for me. Low key, maybe. But it works.
David Thomas, main man and front man of Pere Ubu, is the world's most unlikely rock star. Portly of build and vague of manner, he trudges on stage wearing a long black trenchcoat and an air of weary resignation, as if the gig is a wedding reception at which, somewhat against his better judgement, he's agreed to give a speech. Appearances can be deceptive, however. For this is the man who, in his previous band, 70s glam slammers Rocket From The Tombs, co-wrote 'Sonic Reducer', a song which later became a bona-fide anthem for the Dead Boys. He's the man who invented post-punk before punk itself had been invented, staking out a territory just this side of dissonance (and occasionally the other) with Pere Ubu, avant-rockers extraordinaire, and the coolest thing to come out of Ohio since James Thurber. Over thirty years and (surely) at least the same number of line up changes later, Pere Ubu are still rumbling forward. They have a new album out, and here they are on yet another tour to plug it. David Thomas finds himself once again on stage, screwing up his eyes against the lights, at once hesitant and purposeful, as ready as he'll ever be to rock.
You never quite know which way it'll go at a Pere Ubu gig. The mood of the band fluctuates, sometimes petulant and fractious, sometimes warmly witty and on a roll. Fortunately, we're rolling tonight. That peculiar Pere Ubu racket revs itself up, all squealing theremin and awkward spikes of guitar, and we're off on a random stroll through the badlands of the back catalogue and the new cool tunes. From the haunted langours of 'Dark' to the frantic bug-eyed dash of 'The Modern Dance', the rough-edged keening of 'Caroleen', and the calliope lope of 'Flames Over Nebraska', the band fizz and churn like farm machinery. David Thomas looms at the mic, now stripped to a rumpled shirt, a half-smile flitting over his taciturn features as if he's finally decided that yes, he will give that wedding reception speech and - hey! - he's thought up a few jokes to go with it. And indeed his between-song banter is in full effect tonight. Wrestling mightily with a drooping mic stand, he insists, 'I blame this on the feminisation of our culture!' Then he's telling us a tall tale about an encounter with Kylie, in which our favourite pop babe advises him to liven up his show with a costume change. 'So, this is my costume change,' remarks the unlikely rock star, and trudges off to the back of the stage where he shrugs on his black trenchcoat once more. The applause is thunderous.
all picks up pace as the show unfolds. Hammering towards a climax, throwing
the planned set list to the four winds, Pere Ubu steam into 'Non Alignment
Pact', those climb-and-nosedive basslines dogfighting with the drums.
Then, on a whim, it's straight in to 'Sonic Reducer', a yellow-fanged
beast of a song at any time, and I'm sure it's never snarled so effectively
as tonight. And then, just when you thought the serrated edges of the
Pere Ubu experience couldn't get any sharper, it's head first into 'Final
Solution', the finest (and funniest) teen angst anthem ever written,
a distillation of youthful woe so acutely observed you almost expect
acne to break out on David Thomas' face as he sings it. Naturally, nobody's
about to argue with that riff, and that relentlessly building
climax, coming at you as implacably as a twister over the Ohio cornfields.
It all collapses in a flurry of theremin squeals and guitar reverb,
and Pere Ubu have walloped the target once again.
For more photos from this gig, find Pere Ubu by name here.