Thursday, November 09, 2017

Pere Ubu in Pittsburgh

David Thomas waits while Michele Temple pours the foundation.

"We're not legends. We're myths," David Thomas said. "I was born a myth."

Pere Ubu is one of those bands that attracts rabid fans. They're the type of fanatics that think nothing of yelling to the band between songs, telling them, "You're legendary." That happened earlier this evening at Club Cafe, and Thomas responded immediately and sharply with the above quote. Another guy yelled that he loved the band - but that he was leaving. As if everyone needed to know, because it was all about Dude. Thomas replied to that one by wondering what someone that loves him would do for him. A song later he apologized for the crassness of his comment, and he went on to regale us with the story of how he met his girlfriend, who was working the merch table. Kirsty (I believe that's her name, though I can guarantee the spelling) approached him after a spoken word show and told Thomas his performance was so good, it made her cry. He responded, "Why should I care what you think." (She corroborated the story from the back of the room.)

My advice to Pere Ubu fanatics - shut up. Thomas doesn't really care what you think, either. We were lucky because he seemed to be in a good mood tonight, and he let the banal comments slide. Except at the start of the set, when he was getting situated onstage and a casual, "Alright," garnered a too-enthusiastic "Yeah!" from someone. He didn't like that.

The six-piece version of Ubu played for roughly 70 minutes, leaning heavily on this year's album 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, a fine batch of material. It lets the band do what it does best, churn out heavy no-nonsense riffs, which actually do rock pretty hard. Michelle Temple is still a solid bassist, straddling the foundation of the songs and playing thick double- or triple-stops across the neck. Guitarist Gary Siperko was joined by pedal steel player Kristof Hahn (of the Swans). When the latter botched the beginning of a song, Thomas swore he wasn't mad at Hahn, jabbing him playfully. But he did make the band repeat the song.

On top of it, longtime Ubu member Robert Wheeler wreaked havoc on the EML-101 synthesizer, as well as a theremin, adding the eerie quality that's been as much a part of their music as Thomas' voice. It should be mentioned though that, these days, Thomas shows a great deal of variety from song to song. Sometimes he has the naive man-child squeaks of the early days, but sometimes he takes inspiration from gravelly-voiced blues singers. Though his patter can sometimes seem nasty or gruff onstage, it seems like he's going more for comic relief when he yells or barks at a band member.

Before the encore portion of the set, he wanted to step outside of Club Cafe and grab a smoke. That idea was dashed apparently, when he nearly fell off the stage as he tried to step down. He yelled some obscenities and quoted James Brown, of all people, as if to regain his focus. Next thing we knew, the five-minute interlude before the last few songs had been erased. The evening ended with "I Can't Believe It," a song which dates back to the band's very early days, heard on 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo. Other than "We Have the Technology," from 1986's The Tenement Year, it was the only song in the set that went deep into the band's earlier archives.

Johnny Dowd opened the show, though I arrived late and missed most of his set. Had I seen it all I might have appreciated the five-minute take on "Freddie's Dead," which didn't seem to have much loyalty to Curtis Mayfield's original. Other cities get to see Minibeast, which features Mission of Burma's Peter Prescott. When I heard that, I felt shortchanged.


SkiCitrusSoda said...

I'm sorry you missed most of Johnny's set. He's been putting out great music since the late 90s. All of his albums contain good stuff but That's Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse and The Pawnbroker's Wife are standouts. And no, I'm not related to him, nor do I have any financial interest in his career. I'm just a fan who looks forward to seeing both Pere Ubu and Johnny later this month in Cincinnati.

shanleymusic said...

Thanks for the tip. Yeah, if I had gotten there earlier I probably would've been into it a little more. What I heard was a little jokey, including "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" which he said was the name of his latest album. Hope you have fun at the Cincinnati show! A friend who was there last night said it was the best he's heard the band in a while.