Music

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.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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