Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

Photo courtesy of Cherry Red Records

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

By Order of Mayor Pawlicki
Pere Ubu

Cherry Red Records

22 May 2020

This is Pere Ubu's 45th year of existence – just think about that for a moment. Since 1975 they've been responsible for many, many hours of unique, angular, beautifully warped pop music that may intimidate casual observers. That's because it's made to be intimidating. Also uncompromising. You can rest assured that Pere Ubu do not give a good goddamn about market trends, artist profiling, or demographics. Hooray for that. With all that (not) in mind, the 2017 version of the band is celebrated on By Order of Mayor Pawlicki, a live album, recorded in that most glamorous of venues: Scena Rynek in Jarocin, Poland.

Nowadays, Pere Ubu is David Thomas and whoever David Thomas says is in Pere Ubu. Fortunately, he shares the impeccable taste of Frank Zappa and Duke Ellington when it comes to choosing bandmates, and 2017's Pere Ubu are in fine form here, navigating the twists, turns, and peculiarities of the repertoire with ease. The liner notes of the album reveal that this date was part of a tour fraught with technical difficulties, delayed flights, and general chaos. That seems to have worked in the band's favor as they sound righteously indignant here. They were also in a nostalgic mood as the setlist doesn't stray beyond the early 1980s. Fortunately, this music sounds just as wonderfully out of time in 2020 as is it did in the latter part of the last century.

Led by Michele Temple's utterly ferocious bass playing, By Order of Mayor Pawlicki is stuffed full of art-rock hidden gems. You get some of the big hitters: "Heart of Darkness", "Modern Dance", and "Final Solution" all get an outing here and are delivered with an aggression that would leave musicians many years their junior, breathless and bewildered. Sadly no "Non Alignment Pact", but I guess you can't have everything. The tunes are peppered with David Thomas' left-field song announcements ("Codex" is appended with "oh, baby, I lost my heart to your parking lot") and desperate pleas to the soundman to "take Robert out of his monitors", which add to the cinema verité feel of the whole thing. It seems that everyone was just about hanging on by the seat of their pants.

There are some surprises: "Rounder" is prefaced with a bizarre claim that it was written by Lou Reed and Junior Walker, although when you listen to it, in all it's mutant funk strangeness, it almost sounds plausible. "Navvy" oscillates between an off-kilter verse and a chorus, consisting solely of the words "that sounds swell" sung sweetly by the band. It's after this song that Thomas asks the crowd, "any questions so far?" There probably were, but he doesn't hang around to hear them.

One of the most interesting things that you may learn from this album is just how far ahead of the curve Pere Ubu were. John Lydon obviously had a well-worn copy of 1979's New Picnic Time as that album's "Small Was Fast" is incredibly close to the sound PiL were going for at the time of Metal Box. There's more than a hint of Thomas' distinctive vocal style in Lydon's work too. He'd probably deny that, though.

The first of the two-record collection finishes with an intense version of the anthemic "Final Solution". Thomas barks out a twisted variation of the "Summertime Blues" vocal melody while the band stay just the right side of unhinged, behind him. It builds and builds until Thomas says "goodnight" and it stops.

Things get even more unusual on the second album. The band don't do encores, choosing to announce to the crowd that they are "in the encore portion of the show" and will play a few more songs before they sell their tour merchandise. A refreshingly honest approach, I'm sure you'll agree. It's in this "encore portion" that weird(er) things seem to happen. Imagine a strange gentleman singing "Kick Out the Jams" whilst sitting in a chair, reading the lyrics off a music stand. Well, that happened. That's followed by the Dead Boys nihilist classic "Sonic Reducer" and another version of "Final Solution" that manages to capture a little of the mania that made the original version so compelling. Oh, there's also a smidgen of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to add the fun.

According to the band's website, this is their 12th live album. That seems a weirdly "rockist" move for Pere Ubu, especially as this release comprises exclusively of songs written 40 years ago. Maybe they're being ironic, but it really doesn't matter as it captures some genuinely thrilling performances. If you've managed to get to 2020 without hearing anything by them, you could do a lot worse than By Order of Mayor Pawlicki. Thank God for Pere Ubu. They were the first, and they'll probably be the last.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.