Concert preview: Pere Ubu: The legendary Cleveland art-punks return to Columbus with a new record and the same old attitude

  • Photo by Alex Horn
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From the September 5, 2013 edition

From Great Plains in the mid-’80s to Necropolis in the mid-aughts, pioneering Cleveland post-punk band Pere Ubu has maintained an indelible influence on Columbus music. Columbus hasn’t made much of an impression on Pere Ubu, though.

“We played there a few times in the ’80s and since then off and on through the years. It didn’t really have any kind of impact,” frontman and band leader David Thomas said. “Basically I don’t remember. I really don’t believe we played there in the early days.”

Our fair city gets its next chance Monday to make Thomas remember when Pere Ubu stops by The Basement in support of January release The Lady From Shanghai, the group’s fifteenth studio LP.

“My sister lives in Columbus,” Thomas said, typically droll. “I suppose she’ll show up.”

The new record is a concept album of sorts, packed so densely with ideas that Thomas published 100 pages of liner notes under the name “Chinese Whispers.” Pressed for a summary, he explained: “It has to do with Orson Welles’ style as an auteur and thoughts as a director and the way he creates abstract choreographies and film

The next Pere Ubu record, Beep Fictionis another layered, twistedtopical web upon which Thomas didn’t care to elaborate.As noted, conceptual conceits are nothing new for his group

“Pere Ubu is a band that has more to it than most bands,” Thomas said. “Without being elitist or anything about it, we work at creating a certain amount of depth to the songs or to the albums.”

Shanghai’s composite of surrealist rambles, guitar bursts and electronic sound collageis unmistakably the work of Thomas, a muttering, howling, half-Blues Brother half-mental patient unlike any other. ut it’s also a far cry from clangingart-damaged garage rock that put Pere Ubu on the map.

The restless reinvention is proof that Thomas hasn’t yet run out of ideas in the quarter-century since twin 1978 releasesThe Modern Dance and Dub Housing put Pere Ubu at the forefront of a weird Midwest punk scene. The band has been active on-and-off since then — swapping members in and out (Thomas is the only constant), working in spurts between Thomas’ other pursuits (he also makes solo records and performs with reunited Cleveland proto-punks Rocket From the Tombs), never allowing fans to pin them down.

For those who’ve been paying attention, that ongoing metamorphosis will be especially evident on this tour. UK-based band members Keith Moliné and Graham Dowdall were denied work visas, so they’ll be absent from the lineup that appears at The Basement. Cleveland guitarist Dave Cintron is filling in, and Thomas has plans to pipe the British bandmates in for one song via the internet if venue’s online connection is strong enough

Still, Thomas is understandably miffed about bureaucracy getting in the way of his creative process, and he feels terrible for the bandmates who have to sit this tour out.

“It’s very shocking to find out how much government clerkdom is involved in touring bands,” Thomas said. “Unless you’re One Direction. Which is fabulous. I’m so pleased that they have no trouble.”