I wandered into The Echo
at 10:30, alone. My fellow Minions having ditched me to go see
a friend play elsewhere in town. They would take some friend
they can see any time, over Dave Thomas, who might be dead at
any point really. Whatever, i guess we all have our priorities.
I walked in on the last three songs by The Features. I had
seen this band play at The Atlantis Music Conference a few years
back, and i was none too impressed then. However, they have
matured nicely. They are a four piece: guitar/vox, bass, drums,
and keys. Their sound is organ-y Elephant 6-ish type stuff.
Silly and poppy and heavy on the harmonies.
I really liked the songs i heard. This band has grown, and
i now look forward to seeing them when they wander back through
Then, Pere Ubu. A friend who writes for a rival local 'zine
once said to me, "No one who wasn't in Cleveland in 1976 can
understand or enjoy Pere Ubu." This was his explanantion as
to why he was not going to go to the show. My response, after
a moment's thought. "But i was there. In fact, when they were
recording their 'official bootleg' i was 5 and a half years
old and waiting for my baby brother to be born (and he was born
a mere 10 days after the recording)."
So, in some people's mind, i have a cosmic connection to this
band. We share a geographic bond. And that is more than most
people share with anyone.
So, what can one say about Pere Ubu? The band has consistently
done whatever the heck they wanted, and done it well. Their
infrequent albums never fail to push boundaries.
But live Pere Ubu are ... strange. Their music is "out there".
It is as if you took a 70's guitar band, some avante jazz, and,
well, Dave Thomas, and swished it all together in a blender
with a lot of volume. Dave Thomas is the key. The man has no
real comparison. He is a hulking behemoth with a high-pitched
nasally voice, who stands on stage sweating profusely (with
which i sympathize, believe me) and flailing his arms as he
contorts his face and twists out the vocals.
I dunno what else to say. The man has some definite charisma
of an unprecedented kind. He seems enormous. And i am not trying
to make snide remarks at his physicality, but rather referring
to some strength of ego, some powerful presence of mind. Seeing
him perform is a sight to behold.
In addition to Mr. Thomas, the current lineup includes primeval
Ubu guitarist Tom Herman, who has returned to the lineup lately.
He plays a kind of hard bluesy style, reminiscent of Keith Richards.
Very 70s influenced. This stood as a contrast to most of the
musicians i see, who are more influenced by punk than the blues.
Even though Pere Ubu (and, indeed, Mr. Herman) stand among the
founders of punk, this guitar sound does not fall within that
The current band also features The World's Shortest Female
Bassist, a tiny little blonde woman who is named Michele Temple.
Despite her small stature, she really thumped away on the bass
from her far corner of the stage.
The live drummer seemed competent enough, but it is always
the "electronics" that Robert Wheeler played that seem to define
this band. This "instrument" seems to have long been a part
of the Pere Ubu sound. However, i found that i rarely heard
it during the concert. Basically, Wheeler stands amid a complicated
mess of wiring and circuit boards. Imagine an old telephone
switchboard situated near a bunch of disassembled PCs and you'll
get a rough picture of what was going on. How the band moved
this "instrument" i have no idea. However, as i said, i rarely
heard it over the roar of the guitars and Mr. Thomas's voice.
Pere Ubu played for perhaps just over an hour. Most of what
they played seemed to have come off of their last few albums.
However, they ended their set with a glorious version of Non-Alignment
Pact. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest rock songs ever
made, with bitter vocals and soaring guitars. I'll admit that
i was a little bored in the middle of the set, but seeing Thomas
and co. flail through this one song was worth everything.
After the show, Thomas ran their merch table. Oddly i might
add, as if he was unfamiliar with the concept of commerce. With
each payment he would dig his wallet out of a pocket and file
the money or make change. Then he would put his wallet away,
and find the merch. After giving you the merch he would extend
his hand to shake. Then the whole dance would repeat itself
with a new customer.
He seemed happy to meet the fans, and overwhelmed after the
furor of his performance.
But i got to shake his hand and say "Hi" after the show. I
didn't try to explain our geographical bond, feeling that this
might anger the other fans still waiting to meet The Master.
Maybe another time.