As I walked into Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night (March 24) right at 8 p.m., when Pere Ubu was scheduled to start playing, the band was already onstage. The brains and voice of the band, David Thomas, seemed to be giving a speech… or some sort of spoken introduction to the concert that was about to happen. I believe the words he was saying as I entered the room were: “I despise you. Each and every one of you.”
Classic David Thomas. It’s hard to tell how much of his cantankerous stage banter, his confrontations with both the audience and his backing musicians, are just an act. I don’t doubt that’s his real personality, but surely he’s exaggerating it a bit as part of the entertainment? Whatever the case is, he was in fine form during this show, one of just a couple that Pere Ubu did on this abbreviated “tour.”
Billed as “The First and the Last,” the show began with Pere Ubu playing its most recent record, Long Live Pere Ubu, a sort of dramatization of the absurdist play that gives the band its name, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. And as a concert, it did indeed seem like absurdist performance art, complete with a chicken mask and lots of goofy voices. In between songs, Thomas lashed out at music critics and berated his band for not playing segue music. “What’s with the fucking silence?” he shouted.
After an intermission, Pere Ubu returned to the stage and played its very first album, The Modern Dance, which sounded as original and strange as it did more than three decades ago. Thomas apologized about his singing voice, but it didn’t sound off to me. At one point, he knelt down and yelled a little, in an effort to exorcise whatever it was that was bothering his voice. “A week ago,” he said, “I felt something snap in my body. I could die. I’d be happy.”
Thomas, however, looked as if he’s lost quite a bit of weight since the last time he played in Chicago a year and a half ago. He was no longer using a cane for support, and he seemed in better health. Still drinking and smoking, though. And still scowling and snarling.
The encore ended abruptly, in the middle of a song, as Thomas once again apologized for whatever he thought he was doing wrong. As fans in the crowd called out, “We love you,” Thomas said, “I’m so fucking sorry,” and walked off-stage.