Still absurd after 25 years

Pere Ubu | Royal Festival Hall, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The farewell gig of South Bank musical director David Sefton, who brought rock music inside its academy walls, is a tracing of historical tributaries leading into the 25th anniversary concert of Pere Ubu, one of rock'n'roll's more influential, serious secrets.

The farewell gig of South Bank musical director David Sefton, who brought rock music inside its academy walls, is a tracing of historical tributaries leading into the 25th anniversary concert of Pere Ubu, one of rock'n'roll's more influential, serious secrets.

First are 15-60-75, the most respected of Ubu's contemporaries on the early Seventies Cleveland, Ohio punk scene, never seen in the UK before. Their songs contain flashes of the rebellious absurdity that's also a Pere Ubu trademark - packing clothes in a matchbox, hearing angels whisper on the telephone. Frontman Robert Kidney is poised and charismatic, and when his guitar is amped until it sounds like three, or a harmonica pierces the air, this is starkly beautiful. At other times, unfortunately, it's nothing but Eighties white funk. Instructive, anyway.

Wayne Kramer of the MC5, a prime influence on the Cleveland scene, carries more familiar baggage. He plays nothing by his old band, like 15-60-75 seeming stuck in a more recent time warp, playing urban protest songs. Odd details catch alight, but his corporate avant-punk musical indulgences are crushing, and many in the audience have their heads in their hands before he's finished.

Pere Ubu, heroes for a night, shake the lethargy away with an explosive entrance: "30 Seconds Over Tokyo", their 1975 debut. Drums hammer, vibrations warp around a rickety Theremin, noises intersect chaotically around the ominous bass at the song's centre, and Pere Ubu's heart, David Thomas, spins across the stage, putting a wild night of triumph in prospect.

But there are longueurs. Thomas seems nervous at this rare chance to reach a large audience again, and over-emphasises distorted rock'n'roll, downplaying the songwriting strengths of recent records.

But these faults are dwarfed by an encore as perfect as their entrance. Wayne Kramer (briefly in Ubu) adds his instrument, but it's original guitarist Tom Herman who joins Thomas centre-stage for a version of "Non-Alignment Pact" so brutally joyous, rapid and simple that the band's quarter-century of obscurity is briefly hard to credit. Fans pogo like it's 1978, and a deserved birthday party is complete.

Comments