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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…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.28.2017
10:30 am
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‘Terminal Drive’: Pere Ubu’s Allen Ravenstine’s legendary long lost electronic composition FOUND
06.08.2017
09:32 am
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Pere Ubu co-founder Allen Ravenstine’s “Terminal Drive,” a crucial 1975 artifact from the primordial soup of punk, has recently been rediscovered after decades of being presumed lost. It’s a 16-minute electronic composition in two movements, performed by Ravenstine on synth with contributions from bassist Albert Dennis, and it’s THE piece of music that led to Ravenstine being asked to join the fledgling Pere Ubu, whereupon his distinctive amusical synth playing became mighty damn influential.

The only excerpt available from the piece until now has been a snippet titled “Home Life” which appeared, with incorrect session info, on the 1996 5CD boxed set Datapanik in the Year Zero.
 

 
Ravenstine left Pere Ubu in the early 1990s to become an airline pilot, and hasn’t really done a whole lot of talking about music since, so Dangerous Minds was extremely pleased to be granted some time to conduct an interview with him.

Dangerous Minds: I want to ask you about your approach to synth playing generally—I know you had some musical training, so I’m curious about how you developed your style. Was it just that those EML 200 synths had no keyboards, or was there a conscious decision at some point to reject playing notes?

Allen Ravenstine: My “musical training” was an attempt at playing trombone when I was in grade school. Much later, I had some boxes that were rewired from fuzztones to make oscillators, and I picked up a thing called a “clipper box,” and I was fooling around with these things just for my own amusement, and someone, I honestly don’t remember who, told me that they had all of these kind of little things in one box and it was called a “synthesizer.” And I became aware of the company EML. They had been commissioned by a department of education in Connecticut to devise a synthesizer that could be used to teach schoolchildren about what was then being called “electron music,” and it was supposed to be something that was basically indestructible, and I got one. It suited what I had already been doing, because it didn’t have a keyboard, it was just knobs, so I already had some sense of what to do with it. I was undisciplined, really, and I didn’t want to muster the discipline to learn how to play a keyboard, so a bunch of knobs was something I knew how to fiddle with to get something satisfying to me without having to go through the rigors of learning fingering. So I guess you could chalk it up to being lazy.

DM: Were there any electronic composers you were listening to at the time or were you more just firing blindly on your own?

Ravenstine: I was firing blindly on my own. I’m not really that aware of things other people have done that are similar to what I’ve done. I’ve always kind of operated from an internal sense of what made sense to me, and with Ubu I was able to hear something and respond. It’s kind of like painting. You mix a color, so you use it, and you get a sense of another color that would go with that color, and then you use that. And so I’m not painting a scene, I hear a sound that’s interesting to me and I put that sound down, and it suggests another sound which suggests another sound which suggests another sound, and then at some point or another I feel like the thing is finished. With Ubu I would listen to what they were playing, and I would listen to what David Thomas was singing about—take “Birdies” for instance, and I would just hear a sound and do something that related to it. So it was about a visual sense in some cases, it was about a literal sense in some cases, and in some cases it was—OK, say “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” I love the sound of a big rotary engine, like on an airplane, it’s a great sound which you don’t hear anymore, so that sound was suggested to me by the lyric, so I came up with something that was, um, not meant to duplicate that sound, I’m kind of more interested in creating the sense of that sound, not recreating the sound itself.

DM: Huh! So was there any extant music that influenced the creation of “Terminal Drive?”

Ravenstine: If there was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

DM: So you created this piece of music that’s now regarded as a lost classic. People know it existed and it’s generally known that it’s what led Pere Ubu to ask you to join them in forming the band. But it’s been gone for so long—who DID hear it, and how did that lead Ubu to you?

Ravenstine: I had been living in a rented house in the country. My housemates all moved out so I ended up having it all to myself. I wasn’t working at the time, and I would just sit with my EML 200 and make tapes. I had a TEAC 3340 recorder, and I figured out how to record three tracks, bump it down to one, then two more, bump it down to one, and so on, whatever that amounts to. And I’d make these recordings, and a guy who was connected with the dance department at Cleveland State University heard about what I was doing, probably because people would come out to the house and jam—[Pere Ubu drummer] Scott Krause was one of them—so people were aware of what I was doing. And one piece led to another piece, and I made this one where I went far enough to get someone else involved, I asked Albert Dennis to contribute, and when it was finished I wanted somebody to hear it. I knew Peter [Laughner, founding Pere Ubu guitarist, RIP 1977] and his wife Charlotte [Pressler, poet/musician], and there was a little gathering, just me and my wife and them and I played this thing and Peter responded to it.

I guess sometime later after that I was told that David was aware of it and wanted to know if I’d be interested in playing. And the sense I had at the time was this band Pere Ubu was an experiment. I don’t know, if David was standing here maybe he’d be shaking his head saying “you’re out of your mind,” but my sense of the idea was that if you put a bunch of people together that had a similar way of looking at the world, even if they weren’t necessarily musicians, you could give them instruments and they would come together and make something of value. So it was less about being proficient at an instrument, and more about who you were as a person. So I agreed to do it.

The first thing we were going to record was “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.”

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.08.2017
09:32 am
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Before Pere Ubu, there was the Robert Bensick Band—a Dangerous Minds premiere
06.22.2016
10:34 am
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All who’ve dipped their toes in even the shallow end of early punk lore know the famous trajectory of the early scene in Cleveland By God Ohio: first, there was the proto-punk band Rocket From the Tombs. They were weird and combative and completely out of step with normality, and it couldn’t last, so they split. That fissure produced that amazing yin and yang of Ur-punk—the bratty, gutterbound Dead Boys, who burned bright and flamed out fast; and the forbiddingly arty, brainy, and belligerent Pere Ubu, who still exist to weird out the normals today (they’re on tour right now, in fact).

But that’s only half of the story. Of the first lineup of Pere Ubu, only singer David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner were Rocket refugees, and Laughner, sadly, didn’t even live to play on Ubu’s debut album. Guitarist Tom Herman and drummer Scott Krauss came Ubu’s way from a now utterly obscure weirdo outfit called the Robert Bensick Band. Bensick was a veteran of a handful of bands that included various future Ubus and members of the under-documented Laughner band Cinderella Backstreet, and in the mid-‘70s he assembled from those sources a band of like-minded rock ’n’ roll misfits to record what he intended as a magnum opus, the never-released French Pictures in London.
 
Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.22.2016
10:34 am
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Pere Ubu visit Roland Rat: Fab & groovy art punks serenade rat puppet, 1988
04.25.2016
03:13 pm
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Pere Ubu were the quintessential midwestern art punks of the 1970s. Simon Reynolds notably referred to the music of Cleveland’s Ubu and Akron’s DEVO as “industrial grotesquerie.”

Charting the various trajectories of all the musicians connected with Pere Ubu during the 1980s would tax my paltry mental resources, but suffice it to say that Ubu put out an album called Song of the Bailing Man in 1982, after which the band split apart into two entities, Home and Garden (which did not include David Thomas) and David Thomas and the Wooden Birds (which did). But some centripetal force kept pulling the two parts together again, until in 1988 Scott Krauss rejoined Thomas and bassist Tony Maimone and sax/synth man Allen Ravenstine for what had looked to be another Wooden Birds recording but with that much Ubu DNA, it seemed sensible to regard it as an official Ubu release.

That album was The Tenement Year, and it was a triumph. Robert Christgau gave the album an A and wrote that “this record proves not only that good-hearted eccentrics can live in the world, but that they can change it for the better.”
 

Roland Rat with Samantha Fox

In 1988 Ubu traveled to the U.K. where they made what purportedly was the band’s first-ever appearance on British television, to play “We Have the Technology,” the final cut from The Tenement Year, for the final episode of a show hosted by a puppet rat named Roland.

Roland Rat appears to have sprung into existence on a British “breakfast network” called TV-am in 1983. Roland Rat (the show) enjoyed a three-year run on BBC from 1985 to 1988 before materializing on Channel 5 in the late 1990s for a series set in Los Angeles called (predictably enough) L.A. Rat. Roland’s full name seems to have been Roland Rat Superstar, and he released two albums under that name, the first of which featured a track called “Rat Rapping,” which I’m confident isn’t cringeworthy in the least.

See it after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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04.25.2016
03:13 pm
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Pere Ubu announces North American tour dates
04.14.2016
10:19 am
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Those indefatigable art-punk prime movers Pere Ubu have announced yet another tour of the USA—this one on the heels of a European tour that reunited them with their early guitarist Tom Herman. The tours mark the release of two box sets, Elitism For The People 1975-1978 and Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, which between them collect Ubu’s first five LPS, their early singles, and a 1977 live set at Max’s Kansas City, covering both the Tom Herman era and the brief and experimentally fertile period where the band was joined by Red Krayola guitarist Mayo Thompson and X__X/Feelies/Golden Palominos drummer Anton Fier.

Herman won’t be playing on the US tour—the guitar spot will be filled by Ubu ringleader David Thomas’ old Rocket From the Tombs bandmate Gary Siperko. This could be because an Ubu tour a few years ago was very nearly derailed by an absurd situation wherein US Customs & Immigration and the American Federation of Musicians blocked a visa to the band’s guitarist Keith Moliné, an Englishman, in what basically amounted to a bafflingly petty extortion scheme. But whatever the reason, Siperko joins the band’s usual lineup of Thomas, bassist Michele Temple, drummer Steve Mehlman, and synthesist Robert Wheeler.

Though this tour focuses on early material and its European leg featured the band’s early guitarist, Ubu are being careful to stress that this neither a reunion nor a hits tour, with Thomas offering the proclamation “We don’t promote chaos, we preserve it. Now more than ever—just like Nixon said—you need the sort of utterly gratuitous mess that only men of conviction can provide.”

DM reached out to drummer Mehlman to see how the European tour went, and what he anticipated for the North American jaunt’s lineup:

Even though the songs are familiar, we get to throw some our stink on them and things always change when it’s live. It becomes something else. It came together to be really tight and we played longer sets. The audiences were fucking great—on several nights, the crowd went for three encores!

With regards to line up, it’s well known that Pere Ubu is made up of many musicians. Some come in on one thing and others come in on another, but all bring something unique. It’s about what happens when we’re on stage, I think the results speak for themselves, no matter who is involved. I think Pere Ubu is pretty unusual in that regard, but here we are, 40 years later (20 for me) and gaining steam.

Tour dates and more, after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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04.14.2016
10:19 am
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Whining Maggots: Members of the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu covering Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and the Beatles!
10.29.2015
09:36 am
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Here’s a rare and long-dormant artifact of classic Cleveland punks in a once-in-a-lifetime configuration. In the late ‘90s, guitarists Jimmy Zero of the Dead Boys and Jim Jones of Pere Ubu (RIP 2008) formed the Whining Maggots with members of obscure but high caliber CLEbands like New Salem Witch Hunters, Death of Samantha, Easter Monkeys and Prisonshake. The band name was likely cribbed from a line in No Cure For Cancer by Denis Leary, of whom Zero was a fan, and the group played exactly one show ever.

The band was organized by Zero to serve as the draw for a benefit, the beneficiary being noted independent filmmaker Robert Banks, who needed funds to complete a work in progress (I’ve forgotten which film it was, but I think it was probably “Jaded”). Banks was making his living as a life-drawing model at the time, so he appeared at the benefit nude, and donors scotch-taped cash to his body all night. As the evening wore on, other folks got it into their heads to get naked too. It was quite a time. Frankly, I got so hammered that night that 18 or so years later I’m getting a fierce hangover just watching this video.

The set was a high-spirits covers affair, largely comprised of classic proto-punk tunes nobody in the band probably needed to spend much time learning—it was surely stuff they all cut their teeth on anyway—and some old songs by the Easter Monkeys, one of the bands with whom Jones played before he ascended to Pere Ubuhood. Other notables here include drummer Scott Pickering of the bands Prisonshake and Gem, the latter being the group that spawned Guided By Voices’ Tim Tobias and Doug Gillard, and who originally wrote and recorded GBV’s very popular single “I Am A Tree.” Also present was John Petkovic of Death of Samantha and Cobra Verde, who’s made a bigger name for himself as a member of Sweet Apple, his band with J Mascis. Here’s the set list as best as I could piece it together, the video follows. By the way, I didn’t notice any of the aforementioned nudity in the video, so this should be safe for work, at least on that count. 

1) Funtime (Iggy Pop) 00:00
2) Satellite of Love (Lou Reed) 04:57
3) Underpants (Easter Monkeys) 08:40
4) Cheap Heroin (Easter Monkeys) 11:26
5) Shake Appeal (Iggy and the Stooges) 14:46
6) I Am the Walrus (Beatles) 17:52
7) TV Eye (The Stooges) 23:20
 

 
SERIOUSLY obliged to VidMag Productions for making this video available, and to messers Pickering and Petkovic for the memory jogs I badly needed in order to get this post together.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Irene:’ New Pere Ubu video is eerie and gorgeous
Death of Samantha: Great ‘lost’ ‘80s underground band returns
Mike Watt stars in new Sweet Apple video: a DM exclusive premiere
Never before seen photos of Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys, 1976. A Dangerous Minds exclusive

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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10.29.2015
09:36 am
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A young Jim Jarmusch reports on Cleveland’s foremost post-punk heroes, Pere Ubu, 1977
05.27.2015
01:10 pm
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In the early 1970s, Akron native Jim Jarmusch, born in 1953, transferred from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University to Columbia University, receiving his diploma in 1975. He took full advantage of the opportunitis Columbia afforded him, editing The Columbia Review and moving to Paris for a stretch, which is where his lifelong love of film was born. After his return to NYC, Jarmusch enrolled in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and also hung out at CBGB’s a lot.

At some point he had the bright idea to return to the big midwestern metropolis from his home state of Ohio—that is, Cleveland—and report on some of the major rock doings going down in that city. In the 7th issue of N.Y. Rocker, which came out in the spring of 1977 (May-June), there appears a lengthy interview with Pere Ubu’s resident genius David Thomas with the byline “Jim Jarmusch.” As I read through it, it took an effort of will not to call to mind the wintry, winsome, and downtrodden feel of the Cleveland section of Jarmusch’s 1984 breakthrough (I would also say masterpiece) Stranger Than Paradise.

I’m currently a resident of Cleveland, having moved here from NYC (reverse trajectory to Jarmusch’s, hmmm) in 2013. I put on Pere Ubu’s 1978 12-inch Datapanik in the Year Zero, which I purchased in Cleveland last year, before writing this post. I’ve met people in the current incarnation of Pere Ubu and visited the Agora, where Ubu played in December 1976, but much more to the point, Jarmusch’s interview with Thomas resonates in a far more general way with me, now that I live here (and like it). On the second page of the interview is a blurry, wintry snapshot of Cleveland’s most prominent building, the Terminal Tower, with a raised drawbridge in the foreground, and you know, that picture now has a homey familiarity for me.

One portion of the interview was conducted at Tommy’s Restaurant on Coventry Road, and that restaurant is still there and thriving. The first part of the interview was conducted at the Pirate’s Cove in the Flats district of Cleveland, which is no more; Cobra Verde frontman and Cleveland Plain Dealer writer John Petkovic described it as a venue that “will go down in Cleveland rock lore as the host of shows by the Dead Boys, DEVO and Pere Ubu—back when the Flats was a rough-and-tumble working-class drinking spot.”

In the interview, Jarmusch and Thomas (winkingly identified as “Crocus Behemoth” throughout) discuss the finer points of Laverne and Shirley, the appeal of Nero Wolfe and Raymond Chandler, and the “repulsive” nature of poetry. At one point Thomas/“Behemoth” appears to set up Pere Ubu as a kind of Beach Boys for the industrial midwest:
 

A lot of our songs are about driving. Like “Street Waves” is like, you know, in California they got the surf, and in Cleveland, in the summer, if you work real hard at it, there’s a surf that comes down the streets. And if you work real hard, you can ride that surf. And in Cleveland, that’s real bizarre. You get out on West 25th and Detroit and ride the surf and its real good. Really good. That’s our big summertime thing—you get out there in a car with a radio in it, “a car that can get me around,” and you know, we dress in our swimming trunks and just surf down the streets…...

-snip-

We’re not innocent, like the Beach Boys are innocent, cuz nobody can be innocent anymore. But we know what innocence is, and we know we have to try to get back there, even if it is tinged with reality.

 
In the third and final part of the interview, Jarmusch and Thomas are cruising around the city in a 1966 Dodge Dart. They have the AM radio station CKLW on, which is cycling through some recent hits, to which Thomas reacts. When Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” comes on, it spurs Thomas to a mini-manifesto of sorts:
 

This is one of my big faves, too. I like all kinds of shit. I think ABBA’s real superb. I like all kinds of crap. Like, I consider Pere Ubu to be a pop band. Like, we don’t really do long songs. Pop is an art—to do something really new with pop is an art.

 
Read the original article after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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05.27.2015
01:10 pm
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Pere Ubu, DEVO and more seminal Ohio punk on two new compilations
02.13.2015
02:24 pm
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I’m in my mid ‘40s, and I’ve lived my entire life in Cleveland, OH. Go ahead and fire up your jokes, I’ve heard ‘em all, and frankly, if you still think it’s a punchline, I’m perfectly happy for you to keep your uninformed pierogi-hole on lockdown and stay far the hell away so as not to pollute my zen (OR: if you want to check it out with an open mind, I know a ton of very cool people who’d be glad to point you in all the right directions). I’ve traveled plenty, though obviously one can never travel enough, and I’ve had opportunities to live elsewhere, but so far I’ve taken none of them. Part of that was because until a few years ago I had enviable job security in an industry I loved, and I still have a crazy low cost of living, but the REAL magnet that’s kept me here? The music scene is and always has been beyond utterly fucking brilliant. I have never wanted for gifted mutants to rock with, and while everybody steeped in punk and New Wave lore knows what a musical atom bomb Northeast Ohio was in the ‘70s, and while the success of the Black Keys, indie champs Cloud Nothings, and garage/soul shit-fucker-upper Obnox are attracting attention here nowadays, the rarely-told stories of the ‘80s, ‘90s and oughts scenes are doozies, as well. Almost every time I’ve pondered a move, it’s been a band that’s kept me around, even though nary a one of ‘em has ever made a dent, and I while I abidingly love a lot of other cities, I’ve yet to seriously regret sticking it out here. A close-knit music scene teeming with talent is just that strong an attractor for me.

Recently, the excellent archival record label Soul Jazz have, as part of their ongoing PUNK 45 series, released two excellent compilations documenting the ‘70s/early ‘80s roots of that music scene, one each for Cleveland and Akron, both with extremely generous liner notes. They cover all the stuff I missed out on by being not being born 10 years earlier, but obviously these bands still weigh heavily on the region’s underground musical legacy. Both are assembled from early, independently-released 7"s, and both accordingly feature some previously compiled material AND some serious treasures.
 

 
The Akron comp, Burn Rubber City, Burn!, has the early DEVO single “Mechanical Man” and the rarity “Auto Modown,” the Waitresses’ early single “The Comb,” and Tin Huey’s awesome “Squirm You Worm.” (Versions embedded in this post may not be the same as what’s actually on the comp; they were the versions I could find online. )
 

The Waitresses, “The Comb”
 
Plenty more after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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02.13.2015
02:24 pm
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‘Ubu Sings Ubu’: Pere Ubu meets Alfred Jarry in absurdist pataphysical mash-up
01.10.2015
12:52 pm
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More than a century after it premiered, the play Ubu Roi by French playwright Alfred Jarry remains one of the most singularly brilliant accomplishments in the history of drama, a dizzyingly absurdist mashup of Macbeth and Hamlet and King Lear. Its influence in drama is too massive to be detailed here, but more interesting is its impact on rock music. Not only did David Thomas and company decide to name their new Cleveland band after the protagonist of Ubu Roi—that’s a gimme. But much more to the point, rock heroes as diverse as the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Coil and Henry Cow have drawn inspiration from the manic adventures of the King of Poland-assassinating revolutionary.
 

 
Finally, a veteran of the NYC stage, Tony Torn, had the brilliant idea of staging a production of Ubu Roi that incorporates the songs of Pere Ubu. The project is called Ubu Sings Ubu. Why did it take more than 30 years for someone to do this?? Not surprisingly, the unsettling genius of David Thomas and that of Alfred Jarry fit together like a fish and a trampoline, to employ a suitably Dada-esque trope.

Today is Saturday, January 10, and if you are in the New York area, you can see Ubu Sings Ubu tomorrow and Monday (January 11 and 12) at the Slipper Room at 167 Orchard Street with the appropriately eerie start time of 11 pm. Tickets cost $22 at the door but you can pre-order tix for a cool eighteen smackers.
 

 
The cast includes Julie Atlas Muz, called “the quintessence of fabulousness” by the Gay City News, and the choreography is by Dan Safer, who also co-directed. Ubu Sings Ubu was, hilariously, adapted from a version of the original French text of Jarry’s Ubu Roi that was then zapped into Google Translate.

We discussed the production of Ubu Sings Ubu with its co-director and star, Tony Torn:

Dangerous Minds: Has Ubu Sings Ubu been performed before?

Tony Torn: Ubu Sings Ubu premiered at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in April 2014.

I live in Cleveland, and Pere Ubu swings a pretty big dick around here. Have you ever been to Cleveland?

Yes, my good friend the poet and artist Julie Patton lives there! Cleveland rocks.

Aside from the name, what is the connection between Ubu Roi and Pere Ubu, to you?

I was an obsessive fan of Pere Ubu’s music in high school! I wore out my LP of The Modern Dance. I later discovered Alfred Jarry’s proto-surrealist masterpiece Ubu Roi by looking into the band’s influences. The idea to mash them up came 30 years ago, and it finally happened last year. The concept is … the songs of the band, Pere Ubu, done by the character, Pere Ubu. It’s a silly joke, but it’s proved to be very deep in its own way.

Obviously Pere Ubu took their name from Jarry. Is there any thematic content in the songs that relates to Ubu Roi?

It’s more a sharing of sensibilities than any explicit correlation, at least in the genius of David Thomas’ songwriting. Although it’s true that the hook in the song “The Modern Dance” is “Merdre, Merdre.” This of course is the famous first line of Jarry’s Ubu Roi, where the character of Pere Ubu says the french word for “shit” with an extra syllable added…. this caused riots when the play premiered in Paris in 1896! Young William Butler Yeats was in the audience, and famously wrote, “After us, the savage god.”

How hard was it to match up Pere Ubu’s song titles to the plot of Ubu Roi?

It was surprisingly easy! They don’t relate directly on a lyrical level, but emotionally and dramatically they work like gangbusters. Take the two songs we turned into duets between Pere and Mere Ubu. “Non-Alignment Pact” and “Heart Of Darkness” become incredibly powerful when they are performed as playing out a relationship. And “Final Solution” is a super heavy thing to sing as Ubu goes to war against the Russian king. It all seems to fit super well.

If you could add one song by someone other than Pere Ubu, what would that song be?

Nothing but Pere Ubu! I tried to add Minutemen songs in an early concept but it was all wrong. D. Boon’s songwriting is too intellectual for Ubu!

Here’s a music video of the Ubu Sings Ubu Band’s rendition of Pere Ubu’s “Life Stinks”:
 

 
More absurdity after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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01.10.2015
12:52 pm
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Before The Dead Boys were the Dead Boys, they were the oh so glamorous ‘Frankenstein’
09.03.2014
12:17 pm
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The line from Rocket From the Tombs to punk rock is one of the shortest and straightest that can be drawn. RFTT were a boisterously aggressive, unruly, and weird band of Velvet Underground devotees that appeared in the early ‘70s. When they broke up in 1975, their singer and guitarist formed the long running art-punk ensemble Pere Ubu (who, by the way, have a wonderful new LP coming out this month), and the drummer and other guitarist teamed up with a scrawny sparkplug of an Iggy-inspired frontman called Stiv Bators to form the raunchy, scummy, guttural ur-punks the Dead Boys.

But tellings of that well-known history typically omit an amusing detour. Before they moved to NYC, changed their name to the Dead Boys, and went down in history, Bators and company briefly took the form of the glammy, fuzzed out Frankenstein. Almost nothing survives of them, but what does found its way to an EP back in the mid-‘90s. Eve of the Dead Boys contains early recordings of three songs that would end up on the Dead Boys’ immortal debut Young Loud and Snotty. A short and illuminating piece by Jack Rabid on AllMusic sheds some light on the recording’s history:

The great Tim Sommer once played a tape of Cleveland quintet Frankenstein (who would later become the Dead Boys) on his WNYU “Noise the Show” punk radio show in 1981. It was three fascinating songs they recorded two years later when the same five members moved to New York for the first Dead Boys’ LP, Young Loud and Snotty. It was super raw, supremely garagey, and great. I always wondered if I would ever hear it again. Years later, it’s a great little artifact, with liner notes from Dead Boys’ bassist, Jeff Magnum. This live-to-two-track document, recorded in the loft of the legendary Rocket From the Tombs, the pre-Pere Ubu group they also had roots in, and remixed for release, is slightly submerged, but the performance is delightfully dirty and the playing crackles like a big, burning log. Best of all, since these versions of “Sonic Reducer,” “High Tension Wire,” and “Down in Flames” weren’t altered after the group moved to New York and got into the brand-new, thriving punk scene, this wild, wild, wild sound proves they were not bandwagon-jumpers. Instead, like Pere Ubu, they were true mid-‘70s “bad old days” pre-punk rock revolutionaries, the genuine heirs to MC5, Stooges, and tough ‘60s garage.

Despite the audio fidelity, the three songs on the EP seriously rip. Compare the early version of “High Tension Wire” to the canonical LP version:
 

”Hight Tension Wire” by Frankenstein

”Hight Tension Wire” by the Dead Boys

If you’d like an astonishing look at a seriously glammed-out Dead Boys, these photos of Frankenstein were posted on the Cash From Chaos Tumblr over the weekend. Bators’ stockings-as-pants move surely raised some audience hackles, to whatever degree an audience was actually present.
 

 

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Young, loud, certainly snotty: the Dead Boys in 1977
Stiv Bators, pop crooner
Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome’s ‘Sonic Reducer’ guitar lesson

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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09.03.2014
12:17 pm
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‘Irene:’ New Pere Ubu video is eerie and gorgeous
07.01.2014
09:47 am
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The adventurous, impressive, and long-surviving art rock band Pere Ubu have released well over a dozen albums, few of which sound overmuch like each other, all of which sound like Pere Ubu. Their last, Lady From Shanghai, was an especially big leap, laden with bold electronics experiments and even odder arrangements than Ubu’s usual, and it’s just glorious.

Recently, the band announced the forthcoming release of its 15th studio LP, Carnival of Souls. It’s tempting to assume that this might be an album about the disquietingly atmospheric 1962 Herk Harvey film Carnival of Souls, as the band did a live underscore to the film just last summer, and a video from the album, “Road to Utah,” is made up of clips from that movie, a movie which in fact takes place on the road. To Utah.
 

 
But it’s folly, even with a ton of evidence like that in your corner, to think that one can jump to that kind of easy conclusion with regard to a band that copped its name from a cagey absurdist like Alfred Jarry. With Ubu, the “obvious” should rarely be taken at face value. Per the band’s founder and singer David Thomas on ubuprojex.com:

The album is not about the movie. The album is ‘about’ a complex sensual response to living in a world overrun by monkeys and strippers who tickle your ears, cajole you to join in with their cavorting and then become vindictive when you decline. I got rid of my TV because I don’t want them in my house. I got rid of my phone because I don’t want them calling me. So if you understand that and add in several more keyframes and make at least two more intuitive jumps, then you can see what role the movie has as ambient background noise - in the same way that sun shining through the trees along the Yellowstone River has as a reference point to Kerouac’s ‘On The Road.’

Since that’s only so illuminating, I reached out to Ubu’s longtime drummer, Steven Mehlman, for clarification on what the new music may have to do with the film:

The answer is yes and no. Yes, some of the music is based on the music we did for the live soundtrack. The tour we did after that was with a portion of our expanded lineup and we started refining some of those songs, and roughly half of each show was improvised (and recorded) and led to the other half of the album. One song is straight from the live recordings.

So there you have it. The other video from the album, due in September, is for “Irene,” a song that features beautiful solo work from the band’s newest member, clarinetist Darryl Boon. It’s a simple, surreal video, the focus of which is a mask, as eerie and haunting as the song itself, made by the Brighton-based puppeteer Daisy Jordan, founder of Barely Human Puppets.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Pere Ubu is like a cup!’ insists David Thomas
‘Self-expression is evil’: the mind-boggling beauty of David Thomas and Two Pale Boys
Pere Ubu’s David Thomas is pissed off about band member visa approval rigamarole

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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07.01.2014
09:47 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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The first two Pere Ubu single A sides (1975-76)
10.13.2010
04:28 pm
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As requested by our own Tara M., here’s a quick Pere Ubu post. You really can’t go wrong with anything they released in their first incarnation (‘75-‘79 or so) but these first 2 7” A sides are total rock classics by any sane person’s standards (of rock). I personally spent many teen hours thrashing about in suburban bedrooms with my pals to these deathlessly perfect monster jams. True American masterpieces.

 
More Ubu after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Brad Laner
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10.13.2010
04:28 pm
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