POP : Pere Ubu Still Driven by an Innovative Spirit

<i> Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Pere Ubu was a band designed from the outset to do things differently.

Founded in Cleveland in 1975, named for the lead character in the Dadaist play, “Ubu Roi,” the band succeeded in taking homey old garage rock in striking new directions. Along with such contemporaries as Television and the nascent Talking Heads, Ubu brought a refreshing strangeness to rock that has kept on resonating in rock’s more adventurous, less blatantly commercialized wing.

The band started with high ideals and low expectations, David Thomas, Ubu’s front man, recalled in a recent phone interview. Ubu, he said, was conscious of extending the artistic enterprise that rock had become in the ‘60s, drawing on such inspirations as Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Captain Beefheart, and carrying on their innovative spirit. At the same time, Thomas said, Ubu also figured that such an approach wasn’t the stuff of rock stardom.

“We didn’t think in terms of career. We were purists, true believers. We made records only to leave them behind. We expected to slip into oblivion, and we wanted somebody to be able to discover it 10 years later in a Salvation Army used-record bin.”


Far from slipping into oblivion, Pere Ubu managed to gather a cult following during an influential seven-year run from 1975 to 1982. Echoes of the early Ubu’s dark, driving sound could be heard in such British bands as Joy Division and the Clash of “London Calling.” To that basic garage sound, Ubu applied Thomas’ keening, theatrical vocals and slabs of synthesizer sound that prefigured the noisy attack of Sonic Youth.

After going through a series of lineup changes, Ubu broke up. Thomas, an engaging stage performer whose girth and animated facial expressions and body language always elicit comparisons to Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden, launched a solo career. By 1986, Ubu alumni Tony Maimone and Allen Ravenstine were backing Thomas in his new band, the Wooden Birds. Deciding it was close enough to Pere Ubu to be Pere Ubu, they reformed the old band, with original drummer Scott Krauss signing on as well.

A 1988 album, “The Tenement Year,” re-established Ubu as adventurous and demanding purveyors of garage-rock colored with artful noise. Then came the band’s latest unexpected turn: toward a clarity and directness that verge on conventional, mainstream pop-rock.

“Cloudland,” from 1989, and the newly released “Worlds in Collision” address that most conventional of themes, romantic heartbreaks, stay within conventional song structures (no interludes of synthesizer or horn noise), and allude at several points to folk, blues, country and rockabilly sources. But within that more accessible style, Pere Ubu still has made challenging, evocative, multileveled music that can be simultaneously humorous, ironic and touching.


Who: Pere Ubu.

When: Saturday, June 15, at 10 p.m., with Monks of Doom (former members of Camper Van Beethoven).

Where: Bogart’s, in the Marina Pacifica Mall, 6288 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Seal Beach Boulevard exit, go left, then right on Westminster Avenue and right again on Pacific Coast Highway. Bogart’s is just past the intersection of Westminster and PCH, on the left.

Wherewithal: $12.50.

Where to Call: (213) 594-8975.


Cadillac Tramps and Don’t Mean Maybe are two hard-hitting bands that record for the local Dr. Dream label. They hook up with the X-influenced band, Medicine Rattle, for an all Orange County triple bill Thursday, June 13, at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. (714) 496-8930.


David Lindley is known as a session guitar ace, but on his own he can delight with his World Beat-leaning tendencies on a wide array of often exotic stringed instruments. Lindley will be playing with only Middle Eastern percussion back-up in shows at the Coach House on Friday and Saturday, June 14, 15. (714) 496-8930.

New Jersey-based Mind Funk plays metal with a funk undercurrent and sings effectively of lust and twentysomething generational anomie; Tribe After Tribe is an L.A.-based trio of transplanted South Africans who recall U2 and Midnight Oil in their stormy accounts of their homeland’s racial injustices. They play Thursday, June 13, at Bogart’s.