❉ Pere Ubu really are one of a kind, and we wouldn’t have them any other way.
“By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki was recorded at the band’s appearance at the Jarocin Festival in Poland in July 2017. It was a hell of a hassle for them to get to Jarocin, with tales of broken equipment, broken itineraries and even espionage circulating. Spinal Tap, eh? But such tension and frustrations would lead to a blistering performance.”
As a youngster, Pere Ubu’s brand of music seemed a bit too much hard work for a lad like me. I was moving on up to secondary (high) school and was happy shouting along with Sham 69, Sex Pistols and The Clash. Anything that sounded like it was from the football terraces was fine.
However, as I got older, I wanted a little more. I began to realise there was more to music than Friggin’ In The Riggin’ and Borstal Breakout. Aided by John Peel and later Janice Long, I began to take in more ‘challenging’ music.
The first time I digested Non-Alignment Pact properly it blew my mind. As did Caligari’s Mirror from Pere Ubu’s second record. It turned out there were a lot more sounds out there. A hell of a lot. Pere Ubu had helped me to open a door.
Pere Ubu’s ‘historical’ period, a term coined by Ubu Projex – the ‘art and business directorate for Pere Ubu and related projex’ – ran from 1978-82. The era teemed with releases, with an album becoming available virtually every year. Dave Thomas’ engaging, inharmonious other-worldly vocals. Tom Herman’s discordant razzle of a guitar. It was compelling, a whole new world. They made all sorts of noises. Avant-garde, though I had no idea what that meant at the time. Chaotic but exciting. Pere Ubu were innovative yet recognisable, always evolving and often downright ‘weird’. But I wanted ‘weird’. ‘Weird’ was/ is never boring, see.
Pere Ubu did just what they wanted. Not what was expected, or what their audience wanted. They certainly had no interest in commerciality. This is the most punk of traits. Being free spirited, open, innovative and different – anarchy as an artistic tool, not a stupid slogan. There is nothing ‘punk’ about everyone sounding the same, is there? Be different and be yourself.
Pere Ubu had punk spirit but were not a punk band. They had art ambition and pushed boundaries, but they were not an art band. They had a sense of structure, composition and melody, see. They understood pop conventions and what makes a record populist. But they certainly were not a pop band.
They were always ‘Pere Ubu’, a band unable to be slotted into any genre, pushing the boundaries of composition.
Dave Thomas of course, is the one perpetual member. He has been constant and remains the main driving force. His talent is immense, his style unique. All vital factors in Pere Ubu operating in their own isolated world, unaffected by trend, requirement and suppositions. Many members have been and gone, bringing along and taking away their influence in doing so. For example, Herman’s departure led to Mayo Thompson taking over on guitar in 1980 on The Art Of Walking.
But again, it was always Pere Ubu.
They split in 1982.
But reformed in 1988. Hurray! 1988’s The Tenement Year picked up where they left off. Something’s Gotta Give began with discord and feedback and even had human whistling in it. The trombone led George Had A Hat pushed things along further. I mean, what more could anyone want?
Pere Ubu have never really gone away since. A constant supply of new material, projects (projex) and live performance has been available.
May 2020 brings a new live album, By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki (Live In Jarocin), released on Cherry Red Records. It is a beautifully packaged item with entertaining liner notes and artwork by Johnny Dromette, who designed the band’s early album covers. There have been other live issues during their career, including Live At The Longhorn and 390 Degrees Of Simulated Stereo. However, as a band’s catalogue grows, the choice of tracks included on a live album becomes intriguing. Of course, only if the band in question can still cut it on stage. My god, Pere Ubu can. They frequent shows and festivals and grab an audience whatever tribe they may belong to. And Dave Thomas’s inter-song narratives, rude and hilarious in equal measure, are worth the ticket price alone.
Pere Ubu really are one of a kind.
By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki was recorded at the band’s appearance at the Jarocin Festival in Poland in July 2017. It was a hell of a hassle for them to get to Jarocin, with tales of broken equipment, broken itineraries and even espionage circulating. Spinal Tap, eh? But such tension and frustrations would lead to a blistering performance.
The first disc in this collection also features two tracks recorded in 2016 in Marseilles with original founding member guitarist Tom Herman, with the rest being virtually an entire set from the Jarocin festival. The material played on disc one is taken entirely from the fore-mentioned ‘historical’ period.
Disc two is entitled We Don’t Do Encores.
‘The audience claps and demands more and – surprise, surprise – the band re-emerges to inevitably play their most familiar and upbeat songs….. We don’t do that anymore … Mr Thomas announces we are in the Encore Portion of the evening.’ – By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki sleeve notes.
This disc features such material, plus a selection of abstract numbers from their 2013 Visions Of The Moon tour.
The always captivating Thomas delivers utterances and observations throughout and such an oration leads into Heart Of Darkness, resplendent with sound effects, squeals of all pitch and noises from the analog synthesizer of Robert Wheeler. Dave’s vocals, more than ably backed up by Michelle Temple on bass guitar and Steve Mehlman on drums and piano, are strong and the tempo is gutsy and solid.
On The Surface, from the seminal Dub Housing album, follows. A typically frenetic Thomas anecdote presents the tune, which powers along complete with rumbling bass of Temple and ferocious attack of all else. Superb.
The format continues with a Petrified, the busy album cut from Song Of The Bailing Man. Wheeler’s synthesizer spreads itself like a swarm, with Gary Siperko’s guitar giving sharp jangly, spikey riffs. ‘I’ll tell you … the Real World is funky’ explains Thomas before the band launch into the robotic funk of that very track (Real World). Rhapsody In Pink is up next before the classic title track from their debut, The Modern Dance is aired.
A monster of a song, and a key moment from the band’s repertoire. Its sharp, clean riff weaves its way through the fantastic vocal attack of Thomas and his backers. Wheeler excels on analogue synth decorating the track’s driving backbeat.
Another major moment is Navvy, the second song from Dub Housing. The band jump in, after Thomas finishes teasing the throng with a line from it. It is an assault on the ears and lands its quirky punch right on target.
A hilarious rant introduces Small Was Fast which lowers the tempo marginally and is the first track in the set from New Picnic Time. The atmospheric bars of Over My Head allow the audience (and listener) a momentary break from the piledriving backbeats thus far, and the song’s light and shade, together with an awesome vocal performance from Thomas, resulting in one of the set’s highlights. His legs may dictate he remains seated, but his voice is as compelling, unique and powerful as it ever was.
Steve Mehlman excels on The Long Walk Home, taken from Song Of The Bailing Man. The driving rolls and fills speed things along before the song’s flowing jazzy breakdown is kicked into touch by the frenetic rhythm returns at the finale.
The next two tracks on were recorded in 2016 in Marseilles and feature Tom Herman, the band’s original guitarist.
Codex is a definite highlight. Another slightly slower number and at 5.25 it is one of the longer inclusions here. A cornerstone track, it builds with Herman’s twangy guitar guiding the way. Even longer at 6.43 is My Dark Ages, originally the B-side of Street Waves in 1976. The version included here is sparse, chilling and is also improvised, since the ‘broken equipment’ mentioned earlier plagued this number, meaning it is lacking a drum track.
“We break a lot of stuff, but we don’t stop. Fix it and catch up! The best gigs thrive on such things.” – Dave Thomas
However, the tension this promotes raises performance. The slide guitar work of Herman, preceding the song’s final vocal lines, is spellbinding and although these two tracks obviously break the continuity of the Jarocin set, they are both well worthy of inclusion and will appeal to long-time fans.
Back to Jarocin with a Thomas tale of the Velvet Underground, George Clinton, Junior Walker and the Allstars giving us the background story of the thumping, funky Rounder from The Art Of Walking. This is succeeded by Dub Housing. Its hypnotic sonic and lyric sound as effective and strong as ever, Michelle Temple providing the popping bass line which sits so well with the fabulously subtle backing vocals.
At this point more technical problems appear. And are kept in. As are references to monitors, etc. Talk about capturing the live moment, warts an’ all. All handled with good humour, and I cannot think of many other bands, if any, who would have kept this part of a live show on a live release.
This brings up a fair point. The release retains the feel of a live performance. It isn’t cut and doctored in order to squeeze in as many tracks as possible. It maintains a flow and gives the listener the vibe of being at that show in Poland in 2017. Not all live albums achieve this and effectively become a compilation album of performances taken from numerous shows over a period. Personally, the live albums I enjoy are those that make me feel I am almost at the show. This release has this characteristic.
The final quartet on disc one maintains this. Fabulous Sequel is an amazing song anyway and this version does not disappoint, ballsy, discordant and accentuating the quirky, almost showtune chorus. A single appearing on the Datapanik In The Year Zero box set, it is a tune that shows Pere Ubu and Dave Thomas operate in a field of one. Vulgar Boatman Bird gives us a proper freak out voyage before the absolute classics that are Caligari’s Minor and over six minutes’ worth of the brutal encore Final Solution bring disc one to a close. Via another Thomas narrative, including a potentially controversial (these days) plea to the local Mayor involving a cigarette.
As has been said, Pere Ubu and Dave Thomas in particular, make their own rules. Punk spirit, see.
Disc two also features Final Solution. The version is snappier and has even more vigour and is taken from a show in Heidelberg, Germany in May 2018. The opening two numbers were recorded at the same show and are pulsating versions of classic US alternative monsters Kick Out The Jams and Sonic Reducer. The latter track was “hijacked by the Dead Boys” (Martin Strong, The Essential Rock Discography).
It was originally laid down in a 1975 session by Rocket From The Tombs, a band including Dave Thomas and Cheetah and Blitz, soon to be members of the Dead Boys. This live version ends with a neat slip into Smells Like Teen Spirit, too.
Remember this is an ‘encores’ disc. Or ‘not’, as its title teases. Encores are these days performed as part of the main set, see.
The final three tracks come from a show in Zagreb in November 2013, thus completing a trio of European settings for this live release. They show the more abstract side of Ubu. Visions of the Moon, after which this tour was named, is first up. It is a track included on an album released the following year in 2014 (Carnival Of Souls), so at the time this performance was recorded it was new to the audience. Not that is any sort of an issue in the Pere Ubu camp. Superb digital (as opposed to analog at Jarocin) synth work from Gagarin.
Modern Dance gets another showing, this time in a slower, twisted improvisation termed Modern Dance Blues. It features nice touches on the clarinet from Darryl Boon, as part of its soundscape.
More abstraction follows with Weird Cornfields, the only track included here from a project external of Pere Ubu. It was featured on an album called Erewhon, which Dave recorded with Keith Moline, the guitarist for Pere Ubu in Zagreb, Chilling, hypnotic vocals from Thomas sound as an instrument themselves over the sparse, brittle backing. Humour is dispersed within, however. It opens with Thomas’ ‘favourite part of the show’ – the end. When Pere Ubu get to meet fans and sell them merchandise. Indeed, the twelve-minute plus number is entitled Weird Cornfields / Merch Hypnotism.
Very Dave Thomas. Very Pere Ubu. I wouldn’t have them any other way.
By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki gets its title from a response Dave Thomas received from Mayor Pawlicki, the Mayor of Jarocin, to the technical difficulties experienced during the 2017 performance. Mayor Pawlicki heard about the problems from his office situated above the square in Jarocin as the band played on below.
“He called the event organizers: Mr Thomas was to be kept happy.”
That was by order of Mayor Pawlicki. An ‘on edge’ but awesome set, recorded for posterity and now available showcasing the crunch, humour, avant-garde, curiosity, warts and all and in-built encore that is a Pere Ubu show.
❉ Pere Ubu – ‘By Order Of Mayor Pawlicki’ (CDBRED806) is released May 22, 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.