Pere Ubu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


It's easy to imagine Pere Ubu as the subject of an epic novel--their history reads more like that of a royal family or a fringe political movement than that of a rock band. Yet they've often been slighted in New York- or London-centric histories of punk--Clinton Heylin's meticulous From the Velvets to the Voidoids being a notable exception. It's partly their own fault: the loose collective, started in Cleveland in 1975 by writer, composer, performer, and philosopher David Thomas, has always been doggedly weird, spasmodically brilliant, and above all anti-careerist. Only in the last decade has Thomas begun to get the respect he deserves. Last year Pere Ubu's current label, Thirsty Ear, released a partial recording of Thomas's "improvisational opera" Mirror Man, which was commissioned for the South Bank Centre's four-day festival David Thomas: Disastodrome! and featured performances by Linda Thompson, New York poet Bob Holman, Spaceheads trumpeter Andy Diagram, and Henry Cow vet Chris Cutler. More recently the label has put out Pere Ubu's Apocalypse Now, a partly acoustic live set recorded at Schubas in 1991, and David Thomas & Foreigners' Bay City, a collaboration recorded over the course of three years with Danish improvisers P.O. Jorgens, Jorgen Teller, and Per Buhl Acs. On the latter, Thomas appropriates Raymond Chandler's ultimate crooked town and melds it with Brecht and Weill's Mahagonny and his rust-belt hometown to create his own symbol of American nightmare and desire. No one does passionate ambivalence better, and no one in rock 'n' roll has ever captured so well the terror that can arise suddenly from the banal. Thomas has always claimed to be a folk artist, and in the Harry Smith sense he is: one who explores and captures the otherworldliness just below the surface of the new world. For this 25th anniversary tour, the lineup is the same as on Pere Ubu's 1998 album, Pennsylvania, with Tom Herman on guitar, Robert Wheeler on synths and theremin, Michele Temple on bass, and Steve Mehlman on drums; reportedly the set spans the band's career. Friday, October 20, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.


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