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‘Monkey Bizness’: Music from Pere Ubu’s new 9-piece lineup
06.28.2017
10:30 am
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Few bands that have been around for forty years gain the kind of creative steam that Pere Ubu have in their later efforts. Since 2006’s kinda just OK Why I Hate Women, the band have been creatively all over the map, producing three excellent, ambitious, and highly diverse albums: Lady From Shanghai, an electronics-heavy experimental double LP; Carnival of Souls, a moody, smouldering work punctuated by Keith Moliné guitar interludes; and the forthcoming 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, an aggressive art-rock album that features a band lineup expanded to an astonishing 9 members. For this album, Ubu/Rocket From the Tombs touring guitarist Gary Siperko and Swans guitarist Kristof Hahn have joined Moliné, mononymic synthesist Gagarin, clarinetist Darryl Boon, and the band’s longtime core quartet of Michelle Temple (bass), Steven Mehlman (drums), Robert Wheeler (electronics), and singer, conceptualist, and lone remaining founding member David Thomas.

There’s a temptation, after the wide detours of the band’s last two albums, to call 20 Years a back-to-basics move, but that temptation is undercut by the sheer number of personnel involved—nothing about this is particularly “basic.” Many of the ideas here do recall classic Ubu, but like time, Pere Ubu can not move backwards. In particular, the music’s intensity is ramped up significantly over that of some of the band’s prior landmark albums—half of 20 Years’ 12 songs conclude their business in under 2 1/2 minutes. The exceptionally hard-hitting Mehlman is utilized to his full potential, and I suspect a good deal of the album’s headstrong rock could be attributable to contributions from Siperko, who comes to the Ubu/Rocket camp from a gonzo roots rock band called The Whiskey Daredevils. The album opens with “Monkey Bizness”—a stream of which we’re premiering below, so I’ll spare you any needless description of cultural produce you can easily audit for yourself—and segues into “Funk 49,” which, apart from boasting a pretty chunky riff, bears no resemblance whatsoever to its namesake James Gang song. Other worthies include “Toe to Toe” and “Red Eye Blues,” but the album isn’t one-dimensionally hard-nosed, and it ends with three longer slow-burners, including “I Can Still See,” a lovely and disconsolate song which chiefly showcases clarinet and electronics.

David Thomas graciously took some time out of his life to talk to us about the album and the band’s creative trajectory.
 

 
DANGEROUS MINDS: So last month I traveled from Cleveland to Texas see Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu at Beerland. It was my birthday weekend and when I found out those shows were happening, it struck me as a good way to mark the occasion. I didn’t know at the time that a new album was on the way—Steven informed me at the merch table that Saturday night, I think. But your set seemed really heavy on older material, did you play any of the new work that night?

DAVID THOMAS: No, well, that was specifically booked as a “Coed Jail” show, that’s the set we’ve done to mark the box sets. We thought we were finished doing that, but the Austin guy wanted it so we said “what the hell.” That was supposed to be the absolute last “Coed Jail” show, period, but this Polish festival booked us and they were begging us to do it, and so hopefully THAT will be the absolute last one, period. You know, we have a price, we can be bought. [laughs] We’ll do the old material if you really beg us, or if there’s a good reason to, and Poland seemed like a reasonable request. And we’re not ready to do the new material live.

Much more with David Thomas after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.28.2017
10:30 am
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‘Pere Ubu is like a cup!’ insists David Thomas
05.20.2014
11:48 am
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In this brief and entertaining clip from the late-night ITV program Rocking In The UK circa 1989, Pere Ubu frontman/lifeblood David Thomas responds to the questioner’s innocuous-only-maybe-not question about Thomas’ perception of the various incarnations of Ubu over the years with an ontological disquisition guaranteed to blow the minds of undergraduates everywhere.

The answer seems a mite overdetermined, perhaps fitting for a band whom the admiring Allmusic.com refers to as having a “long, convoluted career” in the first sentence of their bio. So Thomas is overcompensating, right? But representing the Cleveland nonconformist (malcontent?) point of view, Thomas’ disquisition has a certain salience, n’est-ce pas?

For the sake of posterity, here’s the whole speech, which makes more sense if you know that he’s moving a styrofoam cup around and pointing at it through most of it.
 

You see, you look at that. You say, “That’s a cup. I’ll buy that cup, I recognize that cup.” But this cup is also this, and it’s that, and it’s looking at it this way and that way and all sorts of ways of looking at it. Now you wouldn’t buy that, you wouldn’t go to, they wouldn’t advertise a cup like this in a store and say “Buy this” ‘cause you’d say, “What’s that?” and you’d say, “Oh yeah, that’s a cup. Uhhhh, I don’t want to buy that. No, no.” But that’s the cup, too. All of this is the cup. So you have to see it from all different angles. You know, one album we do is gonna be like this, and you’re saying, “Well that’s not a… I’m not gonna buy that, that’s not a cup. That’s a… I don’t know what that is.” That’s the cup. This is the cup, that’s the cup, that’s the cup. So we set out to do a career in which you would see, you would look at something like this. You would look at Pere Ubu like this, you would look at what we’re talking about like this, and you would know what a cup was. If you only know a cup this way, you don’t know the cup. Thank you and good night.

 
If you want to hear some of the band’s early high points, you can’t miss with The Modern Dance or Dub Housing or you can get the essential early box set Datapanik in the Year Zero.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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05.20.2014
11:48 am
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Pere Ubu’s David Thomas is pissed off about band member visa approval rigamarole
08.21.2013
12:06 pm
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Art punk progenitor, David Thomas, American citizen abroad and longtime front man of influential avant-rockers, Pere Ubu, has been fighting since May with the US Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS) and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in a drawn-out attempt at receiving visa approval for a few of his fellow band mates. Thomas and Ubu would like to do a small U.S. tour, their first in several years.

Thomas sums up the situation in a recent press release:

Two British citizens have been in the group for the last four years. To tour in America with those British citizens, Pere Ubu must prove that the band itself, or the individual musicians, are of ʻworld classʼ caliber and have a respected international reputation. Pere Ubu provided the USCIS with voluminous documentation spanning its thirty-eight year history that attested to the groupʼs considerable reputation and nearly universal critical acclaim. The application states that the band must also seek a consultation from an appropriate labor organization.


The idea that the band would still have to pay the AFM a $300 fee in order to have the union conduct a consultation thereby “validating” the international credo of the group and its members rubs Thomas the wrong way. He refuses to pay the fee, stating that he has already supplied ample information to prove that the Pere Ubu is “legitimate” and that the fluidity of its members is key to the largely improvisational creative process that Pere Ubu relies upon so heavily.

Again, from the press release:

“I do not recognize the musician unionʼs authority in this matter,” said Thomas, a US citizen resident in the United Kingdom. “If Steven Tyler wants some guy from Greater Lower Slobovia to be the guitarist in Aerosmith, then what right does the Government have, through its deputies in the AFM, to comment on the validity of Mr. Tylerʼs choice? More to the point, musicians in a band like Pere Ubu are not interchangeable - when someone new comes in we have to re-compose the entire repertoire.

At this late date (the tour starts on September 6th), Thomas has decided to drop back and punt on general principal. Despite being down two members, Pere Ubu will embark upon their U.S. Tour as scheduled (albeit operating under Plan B) with Cleveland visual artist and guitarist David Cintron filling in for British guitarist, Keith Moliné, who can’t come into the U.S. because of the visa issue.  And despite what might prove to be a tricky endeavor in some of the smaller clubs that Ubu will be playing, Thomas plans to “beam in” live performances from one of the group’s keyboard players stuck in Europe. 

“The remote performance will only be for one song but it’s a victory nonetheless,” Thomas said. “For a month I’ve been in my studio working on this project. Everyone says it can’t be done… Oh well.”

For more on the issue, check out the radio interview below with Thomas on the Defend Cleveland Show, a local sports and culture broadcast from Thomas’ hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.  Ubu’s point man discusses the visa issue, his “Chinese Whisper” creative process and some of his favorite Cleveland bands.
 

 
Below, Pere Ubu’s memorable appearance in ‘Urgh! A Music War’:
 

Posted by Jason Schafer
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08.21.2013
12:06 pm
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Pere Ubu performing ‘Sonic Reducer’ at Borders bookstore: A true WTF moment
11.16.2010
01:59 am
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In the annals of punk history, this has got to be one of the strangest events recorded on video. The term ‘what the fuck’ was invented for moments like this. The kids in the foreground seem utterly disinterested in the weirdness unfolding before them.

You gotta love David Thomas for doing something so absolutely freaky. Alfred Jarry would appreciate this.

Harry Potter seems particularly bewildered.

David Thomas grew up in Cleveland Heights Ohio. On November 24, 2006 which was BLACK FRIDAY (one of the year’s busiest shopping days), the Border’s bookstore at Severence Mall in Cleveland Heights Ohio allowed Pere Ubu to play an in-store 5 song set. The “quiet” version of Ubu chased folks out of the store…it was great. Here they close the show with SONIC REDUCER.

 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.16.2010
01:59 am
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