David Thomas might need a stick to help him get around but he can ably support himself. In conversation with John Robb he was a one man whirlwind of comedic rock'n'roll philosophy. Tangents to questions eventually led us across America from east to west with a soundtrack of Television, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, the Velvet Underground, Pixies, Electric Eels, Raspberries and Miles Davies, studying "Trout Mask Replica" in the back seat whilst Jack Kerouac and Raymond Chandler wrote the western urge up front until it met the immovable Pacific object. "You hope there's not Enough Time to recall every Satisfied City you passed," said the curious Mr Thomas, always pushing on to find out what's around the next corner, what fragment of space / time can be fractured off the next junction.
"We were allowed to drink and drive back then." When John asked about Pere Ubu hometown Cleveland we learnt that the title of the compilation of early Pere Ubu singles "Terminal Tower" was a tribute to the tallest building in the city, an industrial urban sprawl Thomas viewed not as a wasteland but as a modern art museum. "We all live in ghost towns. Modernity leaves in its wake ghost towns. The tumbleweeds blow through the streets of my mind all the time. When we realised nothing was as it appeared to be, it was not a great leap to realise modernity leaves destruction."
The 1978 Pere Ubu EP that compiled their first two singles with a bonus track was "Datapanik on the Year Zero." "People become junkies of data flow. Too much information! Facts are an impediment to information flow." Before you click back to facebook, I've got to tell you about some fine, fine music. That fine fine music is rock'n'roll, not punk rock.
Anyone can pick up a guitar and kick up a racket. David Thomas was adamant that that was the original rock'n'roll attitude, merely reprised by punk rock: "I warned you people about this punk rock thing!" The first song they played, their magnificent classic debut single "Heart of Darkness" has more a feeling of devolved sixties psychedelic garage rock, like everybody going triple bad acid. David Thomas' tone deaf vocal explorations of complexes of perspectives and geometries are just one wild card Pere Ubu play. Another is the wildly skewed synth burbles and theremin swoops played with jocularity by Robert Wheeler, wearing a baseball cap with a headlight that made him resemble a cyclopean Cylon centurion. Punk was just comic book crap, a dog returning to its vomit. The MC5 had already kicked out the jams, and taught David Thomas everything he needed to know about rock'n'roll. They hadn't taught us everything we needed to know, otherwise why would we gather in Ruby Lounge to hear Pere Ubu? On this opening date of the co-ed jail tour Pere Ubu were playing exclusively oldies from 1975-82. Having talked for over an hour before the gig, David Thomas was less loquacious between songs than he often is, however he did find time to make a call on his vintage pink telephone during "Real World." I couldn't hear much difference between the funny phone mic and his regular mic, but presumably it's running through different effects. Like drummer Steve Mehlman he sat down for the whole performance. Before him was a music stand full of lyrics. Guitarist Tom Herman, bassist Michele Temple and Robert Wheeler all stood so hopefully the folk at the back could see something. I was right down the front as soon as we travelled into the "Heart of Darkness." Pere Ubu: two hats, two guitars and five people who hear the world as it really is and show us how to do "The Modern Dance." David Thomas might not be able to sing like Roy Orbison and if he could the only Pere Ubu song I could imagine that way is "Heaven," played near the end of a satisfyingly long set. For three songs the synth was out of action due to a faulty DI box, but the other four Ubu folk carried on like true troupers. It bounced back in time for "Misery Goats" and Robert Wheeler wasted no time waving his hands at the metal loops like a showroom dummy who just broke the glass. A guy next to me tried to steal a setlist before they finished but Tom Herman politely asked him to return it. It was a good job he didn't try to make off with David Thomas' comical parping clarinet type horn thing or things could have turned ugly! Peering out through hooded eyes, looking like a crazy hybrid of Orson Wells and Mr Magoo, David Thomas promised us a four hour set, just like Hawkwind in the seventies. sadly that wasn't to be, but we did get a "Final Solution" for "Dub Housing" and got to spend the day underwater with him not getting around much, not falling in love much. Those were "My Dark Ages." Yours too Magoo.
This review should appear in the issue after next of Optical Sounds. The next issue was full up unfortunately.