Saturday, March 22
Back in the early glory days of punk, one of the rallying cries was DIY: Do It Yourself. Pere Ubu came out of Cleveland with an attitude that was more about what they’d undo.
Noise patterns in place of song structures. A frontman who wanted to bellow out a swirl of semi-singing — some sounding like minimalist outtakes from Jim Morrison’s poetry oeuvre, a culturally cross-cutting kaleidoscope. For traditional tuneage, you had angular guitar lines that only occasionally showed up on (the apparent) cue.
But if you listened carefully — wow. Started by a couple of rock journalists (nature’s underappreciated fountains of genius), the band challenged everybody at every turn. They picked their name from a character in a 19th-century French absurdist play. That way the guitarist held back turned out to be an engaging tease on audience expectations. Lead singer and lyricist David Thomas was a serious devotee to theater, and he pursued and achieved a rich mind game of an atmosphere with lights, smashed glass and anything else that didn’t owe its soul to corporate rock.
Thomas is the only remaining original member, and it’s been a long time since landmark albums The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, but St. Arkansas wasn’t so far off, so you can see he’s going strong and still doing things his own way. Somehow, the Pour Haus (1481 S. Shelby St., 637-9611) managed to get onto Pere Ubu’s itinerary.
When LEO asked how this fortunate turn of events came about, Thomas is in his full cagey glory. “Why Louisville? It’s between where we are the day before then, and where we’ll be just after.” This will be one of few current American dates for the band, but it seems to be made tolerable for Thomas by interleaving some related projects.
He was recently commissioned by London’s (England, not Kentucky) Royal Festival Hall to put on the theatrical work “Mirror Man.” He’s got bandmates who regularly slip in and out of Pere Ubu, so that the more theatrically accomplished can be on hand for the themed and dramatic events (Thomas is fond of “Shockheaded Peter,” an improvisational piece of what’s been called “junk opera”). The musicians who just want to rock out (in their non-cliché way) come in for the standard-issue gigs.
Thomas gives the audience more than off-putting metaphysics. Both on record and onstage, he and the band take off from classic cult-noir corners of the zeitgeist. Consider recent performances, like when they added underscores to film showings of Roger Corman’s “The Man with X-Ray Eyes” or “It Came from Outer Space” (3-D version, of course).
What’s next could change as quickly as whatever sprouts in Thomas’ fertile mind.
“I don’t know if the 12 or 13 pieces will become an album. We haven’t released a lot of music like this. And I’m sure that it could be another commercial disaster. But it doesn’t matter: If it makes a pile of money, we’ll go back and do some more of what we want to do. If it doesn’t, we’ll just go on and do more of what we want to do. Eventually, we’ll enter the studio for a regular new band album.”
After leading a band that’s given three decades to the pursuit of the electric and quixotic, do the devoted followers and the steady trickle of new converts have expectations that he should consider? Not in Thomas’ book. “If you listen to people, you have to take the bad with the good, and people often make opinions about things they don’t know much about.”
But how about the press? He was once one of them, after all. Does he think they’ve been fair? “Fair,” he chortles, “is a concept for children.”
Long-time local act The Web is the warm-up, listed for 10:30 p.m., with Pere Ubu at midnight. Tickets are $13.
Thursday, March 20
Is Man Man influenced by Pere Ubu? Probably, but the Philadelphia ensemble has more of its roots in the schizoid peat moss that gave rise to Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Col. Bruce Hampton. Which means that, at its most melodic, Man Man is fully capable of starting into noisy but sweet takes on children’s tra-la-las that confoundingly turn into singalongs for psychopaths.
Onstage, Man Man is known for swapping instruments, including some “found” percussion, without really breaking between songs, resulting in fun claptrap that regularly straightens out — but not too much — by surprisingly disciplined keyboards. The man who leads the howl-at-the-moon singing and frivolity (and keeper for those keyboards) is Ryan Kattner, stage name Honus Honus.
He and his band have started out on the road just ahead of the release of Rabbit Habits (their third full-length), and Kattner/Honus is looking for anything but an ambivalent audience. “I want people to love us or hate us,” he says. “We’re trying to challenge ourselves. We don’t want you to come out to shows and bob your heads, like we’re Band of Horses. Nothing against them, but we want people to be consumed.”
Honus is the last man standing from the original lineup. Are the other four (sometimes five) guys a bunch of super-subs who’ll make the songs their own? “Well, we’re super-free, but there’s not a lot of room for improvisation. It’s controlled chaos, but it’s been well prepared and thoroughly practiced.”
Prepared, maybe, but it’s nobody’s idea of debonair poise. One oddity in that direction, though: “We all wear all white. Initially it was a blank canvas idea. It’s sensory overload anyway, so why would you want to be distracted by the color of one guy’s sweater? But now it’s become like it’s a cult thing. Kinda ‘Lord of the Flies.’ And you can see the wear and tear of the road.”
The Extraordinaires and Lucky Pineapple open the show at 9 p.m. at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088). Tickets are $10.
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