Pere UbuPere Ubu is an American rock group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. Despite a variety of long-term band members, singer David Thomas is the only constant. They released their debut album The Modern Dance in 1978 and followed with several more LPs before disbanding in 1982. Thomas reformed the group in 1987, continuing to record and tour.
Describing their sound as "avant-garage," Pere Ubu's work drew inspiration from sources such as musique concrète, 60s rock, performance art, and the industrial environments of the American Midwest. While the band achieved little commercial success, they have exerted a wide influence on subsequent underground music.
1970sRocket from the Tombs was a Cleveland-based group that eventually fragmented: some members formed The Dead Boys, and others The Saucers, while David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner joined with guitarist Tom Herman, bass guitarist Tim Wright, drummer Scott Krauss and synthesist Allen Ravenstine to form Pere Ubu in 1975. At the time the band formed, Herman, Krauss, and Ravenstine lived in a house owned by Ravenstine. The group's name is a reference to Ubu Roi, an avant-garde play by French writer Alfred Jarry.
Pere Ubu's debut single (their first four records were singles on their own "Hearthan" label) was "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" (inspired by the "Doolittle Raid" and named after a film depicting the raid), backed with "Heart of Darkness"; followed by "Final Solution" in 1976. One review noted that "30 Seconds" "was clearly the work of a garage band, yet its arty dissonance and weird experimentalism were startlingly unique."
Other recordings of the 1970s"Street Waves" b/w "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)" was their third single, and after their fourth single, "The Modern Dance" b/w 'Heaven" (which was pressed in very small quantities and contained a completely different mix of "Modern Dance" from the album version), Pere Ubu signed to Blank Records, a short-lived imprint of Mercury Records.
Laughner left the group after their first two singles, and died soon afterwards of acute pancreatic failure. Tony Maimone signed on as bassist after Tim Wright left to join DNA.
Their debut album, The Modern Dance (1978), sold poorly, but has proven influential. Musicians of many types, including progressive rock, punk rock, post punk and new wave, were influenced by the dark, abstract record. With the song "Sentimental Journey," the debut also introduced the practice of re-appropriating titles from well-known popular songs: Pere Ubu's "Sentimental Journey" has no obvious relation to the Doris Day hit song of the same name; "Drinking Wine Spodyody" has no apparent connection to the Sticks McGhee song (later revived by Jerry Lee Lewis). This practice has continued through 2006's Why I Hate Women, which has a song called "Blue Velvet" (again, no relation to the 1963 hit song by Bobby Vinton).
While most synthesizer players tended to play the instrument as they would a piano or organ, Ravenstine generally opted instead to make sounds that were reminiscent of spooky sound effects from 1950s science fiction films, or perhaps electronic music and musique concrète. One critic writes that Ravenstine "may be one of the all-time great synth players" and his playing has been called "utterly original".
Pere Ubu's second and third albums, Dub Housing and New Picnic Time, followed with much the same reaction.
The group briefly disbanded in 1979, but reformed soon afterwards with Herman replaced by Mayo Thompson (of Red Krayola).
The Art of Walking (1980) featured Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson on guitar. For the next original album, Song of the Bailing Man (1982), Krauss was replaced by Anton Fier.
The group disbanded again soon afterwards; Krauss and Maimone formed Home and Garden, while Thomas worked on a solo career, notably with Richard Thompson and with members of Henry Cow.
By the late 1980s, one of Thomas's solo projects eventually featured much of Pere Ubu. The band was reformed again in 1987, with Jim Jones and Chris Cutler joining for the release of The Tenement Year (1988), a far more pop-oriented album than ever before. The following year, "Waiting for Mary" (off Cloudland) appeared on MTV briefly. After the recording of Cloudland, Ravenstine left the group (although he made a guest appearance on Worlds in Collision) and later became an airline pilot. Eric Drew Feldman joined the band in time for the Cloudland tour and the recording of Worlds in Collision but left afterwards, joining Frank Black.
Story of My Life (1993) was released; Maimone left (once again) to join They Might Be Giants, and Michele Temple and Garo Yellin joined the band for the Story of My Life tour and feature on Ubu's 1995 album, Ray Gun Suitcase. Robert Wheeler has played synthesizer and theremin with Pere Ubu since 1994. Krauss left the band during the Ray Gun Suitcase sessions. For the Ray Gun Suitcase tour, guitarist Jim Jones departed as a touring member (although he continued to contribute to recordings), founding guitarist Tom Herman replaced him for the tour.
Concurrent with the 1996 release of the Datapanik in Year Zero box set, Jim Jones retired due to health problems. Tom Herman returned to the band after a twenty-year absence to tour with the band in 1995, and went on to record Pennsylvania (1998), which also featured guitar contributions from Jim Jones. Guitarist Wayne Kramer of MC5 fame joined the band for their 1998 summer tour.
2000sWhile much of 2000 was given over to live performances by Thomas's side projects - [http://www.ubuprojex.com/pbs.html David Thomas and Two Pale Boys] (Andy Diagram and Keith Moliné) and The Pale Orchestra - Pere Ubu played a gig bannered '55 Years of Pain' in June at the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside 15-60-75. The band then teamed up in September 2000 with special guest Wayne Kramer for another performance of '55 Years of Pain'. This time at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London.
While Pere Ubu took a break from touring in 2001, they worked on material for a new album. Thomas also devoted himself for much of the year to live performance. This included his theatrical project 'Mirror Man (A Geography of Sound in Two Acts)' as well as an extensive [http://www.ubuprojex.com/pbs.html David Thomas and Two Pale Boys] European and US tour.
St. Arkansas was released on 20 May 2002 on Glitterhouse Records. The group comprised David Thomas, Tom Herman, Robert Wheeler, Michele Temple and Steve Mehlman. Jim Jones again contributed guitar parts. In September 2002 the band undertook the 11 date 'Mighty Road Tour in American and Canada. Tom Herman left again in late 2002, being replaced by Keith Moliné from [http://www.ubuprojex.com/pbs.html David Thomas and Two Pale Boys]. That same year, Thomas and Moliné were joined by Robert Wheeler, Michele Temple and Chris Cutler. They performed a live soundtrack to a 3-D screeening of 'It Came from Outer Space' at the Royal Festival Hall, London on October 9 2002. This performance direction reflected a formative influence on Pere Ubu and Thomas's long-held affection for B-Movies. 2002 was also marked by an officially release, on Feb 1, of Rocket From the Tombs' recordings on [https://www.smogveil.com/ Smog Veil Records]. While bootlegs of varying quality had long circulated '[http://www.ubuprojex.com/hearpen/rfttday.html The Day The Earth Met The Rockets From the Tombs]' drew on original rehearsal and concert masters from 1974.
Pere Ubu's 'Mighty Road' tour resumed in February 2003 with 10 dates in the US. 2003 was also notable for performances in the summer and winter across the US and Canada by a revived Rocket From The Tombs. The band comprised David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome, Craig Bell, Richard Lloyd and Steve Mehlman. Of the 33 dates, one at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland was a benefit for an increasingly ill Jim Jones. Richard Lloyd recorded and engineered live in the studio performances of the original Rockets' songs. Originally, 'Rocket Redux' was sold as gig-only merchandise until it was commercially released the following year by [https://www.smogveil.com/ Smog Veil Records]. .
Live film accompaniment came to the fore again for Pere Ubu in 2004. Firstly, the group premiered its underscore to Roger Corman's 'X, the Man With X-Ray Eyes' at the 'Celebrate Brooklyn' festival on 22 July. The winter of that year also saw a UK tour that revived the band's live underscoring of 'It Came from Outer Space'. American music producer Hal Willner also invited David Thomas to join two shows. The first took place on April 1 in Los Angeles, 'Let's Eat - Feasting on The Firesign Theatre', a celebration of the anarchic comdey outfit of that name. The cast included George Wendt, John Goodman, Todd Rundgren, Chloe Webb and Loudon Wainwright among others.
Just over three weeks later Thomas, partnered by the Paleboys, joined Hal Willner's tribute to director Federico Fellini and composer Nino Rota. 'Perfect Partners' took place at London's Barbican Theatre and the production also featured Carla Bley, Roy Nathanson, Roger Eno, Kate St John, Beth Orton and Geri Allen. 2004 also saw Pere Ubu support Spiritualized at London's Royal Festival Hall on 1 August, Rocket From The Tombs played Kassel in Germany on 25 September and David Thomas and Two Pale Boys performed extensively in Europe and America.
During the spring, Fall and winter of 2005, Pere Ubu toured a show dubbed 'Live Free or Diet' as well as other concerts across America and Europe. Additionally, the band performed their live underscore to screenings of Roger Corman's 'X, the Man With X-Ray Eyes: April 9 at the Byrd Theatre, Richmond Virginia; August 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts and November 5 at the Regent Square Theater in Pittsburgh.
2005 also saw David Thomas join Wayne Kramer and the newly-monikered DKT-MC5 as well as the Sun Ra Arkestra on 25 February at the Royal Festival Hall London. When Patti Smith organised the 'Meltdown Festival' in June at the Royal Festival Hall, London she invited Thomas to take part. He sang, with accompaniment from the London Sinfonietta, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 'Alabama Song'.And, as was now becoming customary when the band was not on the road, Pere Ubu guitarist Keith Moliné joined David Thomas with trumpeter Andy Diagram for a series of improvisational gigs across Europe.
From May until the end of 2006 Pere Ubu gigged in Europe and America. On October 29 at the Royce Hall, Los Angeles, the group delivered a double bill consisting of that year's concert set and their live underscore to a screening of Roger Corman's 'X, the Man With X-Ray Eyes. There was also a nine date Rocket from the Tombs American tour in the summer and Fall.
On 19 September 2006 Pere Ubu released Why I Hate Women on [https://www.smogveil.com/ Smog Veil Records]. The band was Thomas, Molinè, Wheeler, Temple and Mehlan with contributions from Robert and Jack Kidney, Rodolphe Burger and Andy Diagram. Thomas had teamed up with Burger earlier in the summer for four dates in France.
On 18 February 2008, Jim Jones died at his Cleveland residence.
On 24 April 2008 the Ether festival at the South Bank Centre hosted the world premiere of Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi. This adaptation by David Thomas of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi was accompanied by animations by the Brothers Quay. The production featured David Thomas as Pere Ubu and Sarah Jane Morris as Mere Ubu.
In 2010, Pere Ubu played a series of theatrical shows in the UK.
"Long Live Père Ubu!” 2009 Cooking Vinyl Records
2010-2020Studio and live albums
Live at the Longhorn (April 1 1978) 2012 Nero Neptune Records
Lady from Shanghai 2013 Fire Records
Carnival of Souls 2014 Fire Records
The Pere Ubu Moon Unit ( mini album, Live in Leeds November 21 2014) 2015 Fire Records
Elitism For the People 1975-1978 (remastered vinyl boxset of the Hearpen singles, The Modern Dance, Dub Housing and Live at Max's Kansas City 1977) 2015 Fire Records
Architecture of Language 1979-1982 (remastered vinyl boxset of New Picnic Time, The Art of Walking, Song of the Bailing Man and a disc of alternate mixes) 2016 Fire Records
Drive, He Said 1994-2002 (remastered vinyl boxset of Raygun Suitcase, Pennsylvania, St. Arkansas and Back Roads, a disc of outtakes and alernate mixes) 2016 Fire Records
20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo 2017 Cherry Red Records
The Long Goodbye 2019 Cherry Red Records
By Order of Mayor Pawlicki (Live in Jarocin) 2020 Cherry Red Records
StyleTo define their music, Pere Ubu coined the term avant-garage to reflect interest in both experimental avant-garde music (especially musique concrète) and raw, direct blues-influenced garage rock. Thomas has stated the term is "a joke invented to have something to give journalists when they yelp for a neat sound bite or pigeonhole". Their music has been called art punk and post-punk. Their songs imagined 1950s and 1960s garage rock and surf music archetypes as seen in a distorting funhouse mirror, emphasising the music's angst, loneliness and lyrical paranoia. Sometimes sounding like a demented nursery rhyme sing-along, this already bizarre blend was overlaid with Ravenstine's ominous EML synthesizer effects and tape looped sounds of mundane conversation, ringing telephones or steam whistles. Their propulsive rhythmic pulse was similar to Krautrock, but Thomas's yelping, howling, desperate singing was and still is peculiar when compared to most other rock and roll singers.