Saturday, 28 August 2010

Guns and butter

A couple of music reviews

First - Pere Ubu at Bath's Komedia:

There’s an air of self-fulfilling prophecy about this. Having named Cleveland, Ohio’s original avant-garage band after Alfred Jarry’s monstrous theatrical creation back in 1975, here’s David Thomas ‘playing’ the character of Pere Ubu himself in a Brechtian performance art panto that’s Greil Marcus’s theory about punk having pinched its best ideas from Dada brought to life. In short, it’s quite brilliant - an unlikely music/theatre adventure that veers from the sublime to the ridiculous via spasming dancers, dropped scenes, temper tantrums, theremin-garnished atmospherics, sock puppets, farting and spacey animation from the Brothers Quay. Astonishingly, it manages both to put across the gist of Jarry’s deliriously satirical 1896 play and feature some of the most joyously rebarbative music that Pere Ubu (the band) have made since their ‘Dub Housing’/‘New Picnic Time’ rule-shredding heyday. Sound arrives in slabs and moods, sporadically coalescing into plot-related songs called things like ‘March of Greed’ and ‘Big Sombrero’, while, hip flask in hand, Thomas himself lurches and swaggers (or lies down full length, wearing a nightcap), purring, growling and yelping through dialogue and lyrics alike, a cross between Tom Waits, William Burroughs and that slightly disturbing but twinkly-eyed uncle who grandpa should have kept locked in the basement. When they’re not beating conventional three-chord rock into disorienting new shapes like demented blacksmiths reinventing the horseshoe, his musical ‘minions’ swap instruments for chicken masks and sacks to join in the ‘action’ as everything from Polish peasants to Ubu’s nemesis Captain Ordura (in a fetching frock). It’s funny, garbled, fucked-up, stupid, great - antidotal evidence that, with the appropriate chutzpah and humour, you can do something different with the basic gig format without ending up with Peter Gabriel dressed as a flower. Or with a lecture on rainforests by Sting (subject here to a withering ad hoc caricature). That, for afters, we get ten or so minutes of ‘pure’ Ubu - including an out-of-the-blue, full-on blast through previously-deemed-controversial second ever single ‘Final Solution’ - is merely yer proverbial cake icing. We leave Mr Thomas, perched on the front of the stage, good-humouredly flogging CDs from a cardboard box.

Second - Public Image Ltd at Bristol's O2 Academy

Rumours that J Lydon Esq has mellowed with age (and advertising income) have been greatly exaggerated. There’s nothing remotely mellow – or buttery – about the way PiL tear into savage lament ‘Death Disco’ and messianic diatribe ‘Religion’. Or about a two-hour set which, as well as ticking off ‘Memories’, ‘Flowers of Romance’, ‘Don’t Ask Me’ and the other ‘hits’ (term used advisedly), snares a pugilistic ‘Chant’, a slow-burning, Penetration-esque ‘Psychopath’ and an epic and rancorously mournful ‘Albatross’. True, this version of the band leaves fewer loose ends than the Levene/Wobble-staffed original and only ‘Four Enclosed Walls’ actively threatens to collapse into atonal clatter, but the oh-so-effective combination of lolloping, dubbed-up bass, hard-as-nails drumming and top-end-shredding guitar patented on ‘Metal Box’ is very much in evidence. Even ‘recent’ tracks – i.e. those written 20-odd, rather than 30, years ago – get the treatment and sound all the better for it, the likes of ‘Tie Me to the Length of That’ and ‘USLS1’ given the kind of strung-out spaciness they were begging for. As for Lydon himself, he’s in fine form. He might look like a costive cocktail barista these days but he still sounds like a cross between an irate muezzin and a pregnant teenager, swooping from irritated nasal whine to portentous declamation (“The priests are coming – lock up your children”) in the blink of a chord change. Whatever his off-stage, panto dame-like posturing for the benefit of ‘I’m a Celebrity’, Country Life and the tabloids, when it comes to PiL and these songs of love, rage, terrorism and death, he does, it seems, still mean it (man). A post-ciggy encore sees what Mrs Venue insists on calling ‘the mush pit’ nostalgically pogoing to ‘Public Image’, ‘Rise’ and the discoid whelp of ‘Open Up’ but, for yours truly, it’s the early-on poise and swagger of ‘Poptones’ what done it. Anger and beauty – now there’s a thing.

Originally published by Venue magazine in Bristol, see ffi

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