with The Features
The Echo Lounge, Atlanta, GA • September 27, 2002
Seeing the eternal cult band Pere Ubu live raises an interesting question. When you have trod resolutely outside the mainstream for your entire life, does the contrast between yourself and the “real world” ever cross your mind? David Thomas and the current array of Ubu (Tom Herman, guitar; Robert Wheeler, synths and theremin; Michele Temple, bass; and Steve Mehlman, drums) played the avant-garde perfectly, in clockwork precision. Does that mean it wasn’t a good show? No, it was an excellent performance, full of the challenging musical paths and bewildering wordplay that Pere Ubu is famous for — but it did seem slightly strange to see such “out there” music delivered in such a professional, calm manner. The songs flowed (mostly) one to another, the band never glanced around in wonder of what comes next — the entire evening was as mannered and scripted as any boy band show around. I suppose one expects drunken delirium and crazed rants befitting such a legendary loon as Thomas. True, he did perform wearing a strange apron with contact mic’s on it, which he would randomly activate by pressing himself against a Fender Twin amplifier, with great resulting wails of feedback, and the keyboardist took great delight in sending extremely low frequency rumbles through the P.A. that caused listeners’ internal organs to shift, but overall, these were pretty normal folk.
Of course, this is just yet another example of Pere Ubu destroying the preconceived notions of a listening public. Crafty devils. Musically, the show was great — although they relied more on later period material (much off of the new release, St. Arkansas) — but by the end of the night and a rousing take on “Dub Housing,” the band had wrung us out. Special notice must be paid to bassist Michele Temple. Set center stage, she controlled the flow and pulse of the music. I’ve never seen a band more focused on the bass player before, and she was a powerhouse.
The show was opened enthusiastically by The Features from Tennessee, who sounded live a bit like a noisy cross between XTC and The Kinks. Their stage volume (and a not-so-great sound mix) resulted in us not hearing the banks of vintage analog synths they toted around, but a listen to the five-song EP they sold afterward really impressed, even though it sounded little like they did live. Keep an ear out for these guys.
Although the evening might not have been what I expected going in, it surely delivered on all counts. Pere Ubu remains — nearly 30 years down the road — alone as America’s most challenging rock band, a group that answers only to themselves yet never fails to impress and infuriate in equal measure. May they never falter in their quest to wander outside the mainstream.