Pere Ubu at Junction J2, the enticing prospect of an evening of experimental excess from long lasting leaders in the genre, originally formed back in 1975 in Cleveland, USA.
The first half hour was semi-improvisational, David Thomas the only founder member still in the band sits at the front of a semi-circle of the other musicians, directing and suggesting as each player takes turns to start off a themed piece (eg ‘Martian Lounge Music’!). Clarinet, keyboards, theremin, guitar and drums with fragments of lyrics create a rich seam of ideas, with potential for mining for future full songs. It is an instrumental blend that could feature in a Tom Waits show, where there is always space within the complex sound. It is a challenging listening experience but not inaccessible, just get absorbed into the mood.
Following on from the interval the band returned for the ‘professional band’ part of the show, featuring songs from their latest album ‘Carnival Of Souls’ and many others. Conventional rock guitar riffs are soothed by the clarinet then hijacked by twisted keyboard effects, bursts of drums and the aggressively slicing theremin. At the centre, the focal point is Thomas’s voice, sometimes tortured and edgy, sometimes being distorted through a telephone handset, always surprising. At times it reminded me of the tone of the late, great Kevin Coyne. In between songs David Thomas has many wry observations and anecdotes, including why the band did not want us to clap. This seemed to create a strange atmosphere at first but by the end seemed perfectly reasonable and quite liberating, even though the audience were trying to break the rule when the songs were as good as ‘Caroleen’.
After a break off-stage the band returned to play ‘Irene’. Beginning with keyboard effects like hailstones rolling down a window, beautiful clarinet lines underpinned a plaintive and gently sung vocal performance making it the highlight of the show for me. The final improvised song/statement was urging us to ‘Buy More Merchandise’, after wading through the many layers of irony of this I bought the CD. I did the right thing. I think….?