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Pere Ubu performing in Vienna, 2009.
|Origin||Cleveland, Ohio, United States|
|Years active||1975–1982, 1987–present|
|Labels||Hearthan, Blank, Mercury, Radar, Chrysalis, Rough Trade, Fontana, Imago, Tim/Kerr, Cooking Vinyl, DGC, Thirsty Ear, Smog Veil, Fire, Cherry Red|
|Associated acts||Rocket from the Tombs, The Red Krayola, Home and Garden|
|Past members||Scott Krauss|
Eric Drew Feldman
Pere 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.
Rocket 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.
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".
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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.
2000 - 2010
While much of 2000 was given over to live performances by Thomas's side projects - 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.
Although 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 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 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 Smog Veil Records. While bootlegs of varying quality had long circulated '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 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 comedy 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 with the release in April of '18 Monkeys On A Dead Man's Chest' (Smog Veil Records and Glitterhouse Records).
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 Smog Veil Records. The band was Thomas, Moliné, 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. In October, Smog Veil Records and Glitterhouse Records issued 'Why I Remix Women' a set of band reworkings of the original tracks by Thomas, Moliné and Temple. Gagarin, an electronica instrumentalist and drummer for Nico during the 1980s, had worked for several years as live sound man for Pere Ubu as well as providing occasioanl on-stage contributions . His remix of 'Blue Velvet' was included on the album.
In the spring of 2007, Pere Ubu hit the road once more, with six dates in America, 20 in Europe and followed in the Fall with four shows in the US and Canada. Work also started in 2007 on adapting, for performance, Alfred Jarry's 'Ubu Roi', the play that had inspired the band's name.
During February and March 2008 Pere Ubu toured Europe and America. This included two live underscorings of Roger Corman's 'X, the Man With X-Ray Eyes: March 24 at the Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte, North Carolina and March 25 at the Plaza Theater, Atlanta, Georgia.
On April 24 2008 the Ether festival at London's 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 with the rest of the band playing various roles.
Back in 2006 musical producer Hal Willner had gathered together a host of musicans and actors for a double CD Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys. In the summer of 2008, Willner brought a three date live show of the work to the UK and Ireland. David Thomas who had contributed versions of 'Dan Dan' and 'The Drunken Sailor' to the album joined the cast along with Pere Ubu guitarist Keith Moliné for all performances.
In 2009, Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi was staged once again; this time at the Animator Festival, Poznań, Poland on July 11. The band's new album, 'Long Live Père Ubu!', released September 14 on Cooking Vinyl Records with the American release issued on Hearpen Records. The disc reprised the Ubu Roi story. Sarah Jane Morris guested on the disc as did Ubu's sound man Gagarin. The rest of the band comprised: Thomas, Moliné, Wheeler, Temple and Mehlman. During the Fall and winter the group toured extensively in Europe including material from the new album.
From February 2010, the band continued to tour the new album in the United Kingdom under the banner 'Long Live Père Ubu! - The Spectacle'. The concert show also had its American premerie on 28 March in New York. The band also performed debut album 'The Modern Dance' in its entirety, firstly, at the Cleveland Beachland Ballroom, March 5 then on March 24 at Chicago's Lincoln Hall.
David Thomas once more joined the cast of Hal Willner's live show Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys. Thomas followed that show at the Sydney Opera House, Australia on January 28 with a concert of Pere Ubu songs, again in Sydney, on January 31 where he was backed by local band The Holy Soul. Thomas also revived his spoken word set 'the Ghost Line Diaries', originally aired at the 14th Genoa International Poetry Festival, Genoa, Italy, on June 19 2008. Three gigs took place: Copenhagen, Denmark on October 9; Boston, USA on October 23 and in Geneva, Switzerland on December 5.
On 19 March 2011, founding Pere Ubu guitarist Tom Herman joined the band for a show at The Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland. The set included a full performance of 'The Modern Dance' album. Between March and August the group played a further 18 shows in Europe incorporating 'The Modern Dance' in a number of them. In April, David Thomas joined fellow Rocket From the Tombs musician Cheetah Chrome for the 'Cleveland Confidential Book Tour': April 11, Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum; and April 14, The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles. A new Rocket from the Tombs album, 'Barfly' appeared in September on Fire Reords and Smog Veil Records. The band was: David Thomas; Cheetah Chrome; Craig Bell; Richard Lloyd and Steve Mehlman and they played seven dates in the USA throughout December.
2011 also marked the first live underscoring to a screening of 'Carnival of Souls', a horror film directed in 1962 by Herk Hervey. David Thomas and Two Plae Boys debuted the project at Cafe Oto, London on February 12, followed by further performances at Cinéma L'Univers, Lille, France (June 4) and the Duke of York's Picture, Brighton, England (December 2).
Studio and live albums 2011-20
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
To 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.
- Current members
- David Thomas – lead vocals, keyboards, melodeon, musette, theremin (1975–82, 1987–present)
- Michele Temple – bass, guitar (1993–present)
- Robert Wheeler – synthesizer, theremin (1994–99, 1999-2007, 2009-present)
- Keith Moliné – guitar (2002, 2005–16, 2016–present)
- Gagarin – synthesizer, electronics (2007–16, 2016–present)
- Chris Cutler – drums, electronics (1987–90, 2004, 2019-present)
- P.O. Jørgens - drums, percussion (2019-present)
- Former members
- Scott Krauss – drums, keyboards (1975–77, 1978–81, 1987–94)
- Allen Ravenstine – synthesizer, saxophone (1975, 1976–82, 1987–88)
- Tom Herman – guitar, bass (1975–79, 1995–98, 1998-2002, 2016)
- Tim Wright – bass, guitar (1975–76)
- Peter Laughner – guitar, bass (1975–76)
- Dave Taylor – synthesizer, organ (1975–76)
- Alan Greenblatt – guitar (1976)
- Tony Maimone – bass, guitar, keyboards (1976–82, 1987–93, 2003–04)
- Anton Fier – drums, marimba (1977–78, 1981–82)
- Mayo Thompson – guitar (1979–82)
- Jim Jones – guitar, keyboards (1987–94, 1994–95)
- Eric Drew Feldman – keyboards (1989–92)
- Garo Yellin – electric cello (1993–94)
- Paul Hamann – bass (1994)
- Scott Benedict – drums (1994–95)
- Wayne Kramer – guitar (1998)
- Andy Diagram – trumpet (1999, 2007)
- Sarah Jane Morris – vocals (2009)
- Steve Mehlman – drums (1995–2018)
- Darryl Boon – clarinet (2013–16, 2016–2018)
- Gary Siperko – guitar (2016–2018)
- Christoph Hahn – steel guitar (2016–2018)
- The Modern Dance (1978)
- Dub Housing (1978)
- New Picnic Time (1979)
- The Art of Walking (1980)
- Song of the Bailing Man (1982)
- The Tenement Year (1988)
- Cloudland (1989)
- Worlds in Collision (1991)
- Story of My Life (1993)
- Ray Gun Suitcase (1995)
- Pennsylvania (1998)
- St. Arkansas (2002)
- Why I Hate Women (2006)
- Lady from Shanghai (2013)
- Carnival of Souls (2014)
- 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017)
- The Long Goodbye (2019)
- Long Live Père Ubu! (2009, with Sarah Jane Morris)
Singles and EPs
- "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" b/w "Heart of Darkness" (1975)
- "Final Solution" b/w "Cloud 149" (1976)
- "Street Waves" b/w "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)" (1976)
- "The Modern Dance" b/w "Heaven" (1977) This single version of "The Modern Dance" is not the same mix as the subsequent album and all reissues of the track (with the railroad spike). This makes this single (with the doll squeak) the only place to find the original mix
- "The Fabulous Sequel (Have Shoes Will Walk)" b/w "Humor Me" and "The Book Is On The Table" (1979)
- "Datapanik In The Year Zero-A" (Side A: "Final Solution" – Side B: "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)") (1980)
- "Not Happy" (1981 – Side A: "Not Happy" – Side B: "Lonesome Cowboy Dave")
- "We Have The Technology" (1988)
- "Breath" (1989)
- "Love Love Love" (1989)
- "Waiting For Mary (What Are We Doing Here)" (1989)
- "I Hear They Smoke The Barbecue" (1990)
- "Oh Catherine" (1991)
- "Folly Of Youth See Dee +" (1995)
- "Beach Boys See Dee +" (1996)
- "Slow Walking Daddy" (2002)
- "The Geography Of Sound In The Magnetic Age" (2003)
- 390° of Simulated Stereo (1981)
- One Man Drives While the Other Man Screams (1989)
- Apocalypse Now (1999)
- The Shape of Things (2000)
- London Texas (2009)
- Terminal Tower (1985) (collection of singles and b-sides)
- Folly of Youth (1996) (enhanced EP)
- B Each B Oys See Dee Plus (1996) (enhanced EP)
- Datapanik in Year Zero (1996) (boxed set)
- Drive, He Said (2017) (boxed set of remixed Raygun Suitcase, Pennsylvania, St. Arkansas)
|US Hot 100||US Modern Rock||US Mainstream Rock||UK|
|1989||"Waiting for Mary"||-||6||-||-||Cloudland|
|"Love Love Love"||-||-||-||88|
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