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Pere Ubu, Bush Hall review - terminal Americana | reviews, news & interviews

Pere Ubu, Bush Hall review - terminal Americana

Pere Ubu, Bush Hall review - terminal Americana

Punk-era veterans stoically view the end of the line

The rock band at the end of the world: David Thomas (front) leads Ubu's latest incarnation

Pere Ubu are much like The Fall in their dauntless explication of one man’s vision, and commitment to an individual, primal rock’n’roll, initially called punk, but pushing far past its limits. Where Mark E. Smith’s alcoholic dissolution hampered his later years, Pere Ubu’s sole constant, David Thomas, has if anything tightened his focus on a post-industrial, clanking, ruined Americana, all rust, dust and diners, recalled for decades now from unlikely self-exile in Hove. I visited him there 20 years ago, an imposingly vast man ensconced in the corner of a pub, discussing cricket with a whippet at his feet, Cleveland now largely a dream. He seemed a man of potential rages and appetites, and unyieldingly unconventional intellect.

Physically, Thomas’s resemblance to Alfred Jarry’s monstrous emblem of absurd malignity, Ubu Roi, had vanished by the time of his band’s 2013 appearance at this ornate Edwardian hall, leaving a slimmer, frailer figure. Last year, unspecified, debilitating illness inspired an attempted summation of Ubu’s 44-year course. Seventeenth album The Long Goodbye is therefore a terminal road record, named after Raymond Chandler’s most elegiac novel of corrupted ideals.

Pere Ubu The Long Goodbye LP sleeveThe Long Goodbye takes up most of tonight. It’s framed first by "Heart of Darkness", the B-side of Ubu’s important 1975 debut single, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”. Thomas introduces this as a Chandler pastiche. The author’s centrality to his mission hasn’t always been readily apparent, but the new work confirms that both are disappointed romantics, and disappointed if proud Americans. “I am the last of the Americans...I knew the golden age,” Thomas reedily insists in the epic “The Road Ahead”. Favourite tropes – rivers, roads, radio waves, apocalyptic post-industrial landscapes, a heart of darkness – pass by the narrator’s vehicle as entropy halts it at the water’s edge of Bay City (Chandler’s name for Santa Monica, where Marlowe lived alone). “I hope the end comes quickly,” Thomas shudders. “Before I can recall every incident.”

The shadows and rot which give poignancy to the Californian surf dreams of another Thomas hero, Brian Wilson, belong in a neighbouring room, the Hawaiian strums in the eerie tribute to Chandler’s detective, “Marlowe”, suggest. The pulp language which invigorated punk is chiselled by Thomas into evocative splinters and reveries, and turns transatlantic with “Skidrow-on-Sea”. Backwaters up the coast from Hove are evoked here and in “Lovely Day”, where “chip wrappers” blow through, and bass and drums lull and shush.

Thomas is unavoidably sedentary (later leaving the venue in a wheelchair), and Ubu’s surprisingly danceable rock’n’roll drive is similarly subdued. His often spoken-word voice sometimes sinks into the mix. When the encore turns to other work, though, it still chills. Neil Young's “Running Dry” is a blues in the spirit of Lead Belly (and Nirvana’s) “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” “I’m sorry for the things I’ve done,” Thomas confesses, his exposed voice leaving nowhere for the listener to hide. “I’ve shamed myself with lies/I left my love with ribbons on, water in her eyes.” There’s a ravaged steel to his singing, as Gagarin’s synths are majestically overdriven, and the song ends with the tock, tock of time ticking terminally down.

The physical diminishment which led to The Long Goodbye precludes Ubu thrills of the past, but permits immersion in its hermetic, haunted America. Recovery, and future work, are promised. The Thomas casebook isn’t closed.

 

Both Thomas and Chandler are disappointed romantics, and disappointed if proud Americans

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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