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Pere Ubu, The Garage, Islington, February 25th 2010

February 27, 2010

This gig was billed as ‘Pere Ubu will bring both ends of their career together in one special show at Relentless Garage on February 25, 2010, performing in its entirety their first album The Modern Dance and their latest Long Live Père Ubu! over the course of two sets.’ Not entirely true, as Pere Ubu main-man David Thomas is not someone whose onstage behaviour is predictable. That’s the only thing that’s predictable about him and, sure enough, three songs into the Ubu Roi set, he stopped the band with a wave of his arms and a cry of ‘F*cking hell! Where the f*ck are we?’ Long-time Ubu watchers (and, let’s face it, those are the only sorts of Ubu watchers there are) laughed, familiar as they are with David’s shambolic antics.

Even with a full set of lyrics in front of him, he forgets what he’s sung, sings things twice and rambles off into muttering, swearing oblivion. But this sense of anti-performance is what Pere Ubu have always been about. Yes, the music, when it’s on song, is terrific – hard, driving, funky punk – but they’re imbued with a radical 70s DIY philosophy.

Lazy accounts of Pere Ubu’s origins and influences always mention Captain Beefheart and ‘musique concrète’, but this is perhaps too cerebral. Think punk – and think The Fall’s Mark E Smith, with whom David Thomas shares many qualities: irascible and unpredictable persona; ever-changing band line-up; onstage undercurrents of ‘drink-related violence’; occasionally ‘difficult’ music; and a loyal bunch of fans who still turn out to see them after thirty-something years. Did I mention that David refused to play the last two songs of the set and walked off the stage? The lovable rascal.

The second set was a great re-enactment of Pere Ubu’s brilliant first album and we had a few shining examples of David’s humour: his remark that their loud music is ‘quietus interruptus’; and a harangue of the audience during which he said, ‘I don’t need to do this. I have enough royalties to see me to the grave… and then Frank Black will take over.’

During one moment of attention-wandering, I mused at how much David now looks like corpulent 70s crime-buster Frank Cannon aka William Conrad…

And finally, I can’t resist another quote from David about the band: ‘Pere Ubu is not now nor has it ever been a viable commercial venture. We won’t sleep on floors, we won’t tour endlessly and we’re embarrassed by self-promotion. Add to that a laissez-faire attitude to the mechanics of career advancement and a demanding artistic agenda and you’ve got a recipe for real failure. That has been our one significant success to this date: we are the longest-lasting, most disastrous commercial outfit to ever appear in rock ‘n’ roll. No one can come close to matching our loss to longevity ratio.’ Brilliant.

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