Pere Ubu is a band like no other. And David Thomas, who for all intents and purposes is Pere Ubu, is a singer and personality like no one else. See Pere Ubu or any David Thomas project at any chance you can. The legendary band was back last night (Sept. 27) for a performance at Empty Bottle, part of The Wire magazine’s annual Adventures in Modern Music Festival.
Thomas was in fine form last night, both as a vocalist and as a cranky eccentric. Drinking beer straight out of a mug, taking frequent drags on cigarettes and blowing clouds of smoke, Thomas wore a black leather hat for a little while last night, but then the hat was off, revealing his nearly bald head, framed by a fuzzy scrim of hair at the top and a fuzzy beard at the bottom. Thomas squints a lot, and when he opens his eyes wide, it’s often to glare at audience members. You might think he was actually a lunatic on an angry rampage, until those moments when he breaks into a smile and lets you know that his stage banter is at least partially a comic routine. He often covered his face when he sang, and then during instrumental passages, he would step back and make an odd yelping motion with his face, like a dog yapping. Thomas has always been a really big guy – big in height as well as girth – and he had a chair handy to sit down whenever his vocals weren’t needed.
Over the course of the night, Thomas described the Empty Bottle crowd as a bunch of “art creeps” (and lest you think he was being insulting, he admitted he is an art creep, too)… challenged the audience to earn an encore by answering a Civil War trivia question (“Name General Lee’s three corps commanders at Appomattox.” Someone correctly named A.P. Hill, and Thomas was duly impressed)… insulted electronica… referred to the “weird bands” that played earlier in the night … heckled a heckler, telling a loud young woman in the crowd that he would eventually have his way with her… and insinuated that Pere Ubu’s keyboard player doesn’t do anything other than hit random keys.
Oh, yeah, what about the songs? Pere Ubu played a bracing selection of songs ranging from oldies like “Sonic Reducer” up through new songs “Caroleen” and “Flames Over Nebraska.” Thomas said Elvis Presley had written the latter song for him, calling him up a couple of years ago and telling him that “Flames Over Nebraska” would be the tune that would finally put Pere Ubu on the charts. It hasn’t worked so far (as Thomas noted sardonically), but Pere Ubu remains a great band appreciated by a few of us art creeps.
Last night’s installment of the AIMM fest began with a nice set of John Fahey-like acoustic guitar instrumentals by Glenn Jones and Jack Rose. A noisy group called Hair Police followed with a set that was, well, pretty darn noisy. And then Ulrich Schnauss immersed the room in his pulsing electronic sounds.