It's been 20 years since Cleveland's Pere Ubu released its epochal first album, The Modern Dance (recently reissued by Geffen), and during that time the band has gone through nearly 20 members and almost as many stylistic shifts. If 1995's Ray Gun Suitcase was a retreat from Pere Ubu's pop dalliance and back to its avant-rock roots, then the new Pennsylvania (both are on Tim/Kerr) mirrors the drift it made toward open-ended, dissonant experimentalism as the 70s gave way to the 80s. The return of guitarist Tom Herman, who rejoined on the tour in support of Ray Gun Suitcase, surely plays a big part in the latest plot twist: his simultaneously abrasive and liquid six-string machinations never let Pere Ubu slip into the standard rock vocabulary. And as usual, front man and sole constant member David Thomas is a mercurial presence, warbling, huffing and puffing, wailing, whispering, and bleating his elusive lyrics. Pennsylvania is a horrific travelogue of middle America, zooming in on harsh details of decay, displacement, and disorientation in places that no longer have an identity or even a name. In "Perfume" Thomas murmurs, "I meant to write down the name of the town / and I don't remember the highway we took to get to it / or where we went afterwards / I do remember the frozen quality of the hours we stayed there." His vision of a homogenous nation is truly frightening--but as long as there are Pere Ubus to prod us, things will never be quite as bad as Thomas says they are. Saturday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jim Jones.