Monday, January 14, 2013

Pere Ubu-Lady From Shanghai; Fire Records, 2013

There exists on youtube a clip of David Thomas, in which he compares his band Pere Ubu to a cup. It strikes Disaster Amnesiac, after careful listening to Lady From Shanghai, that what the singer was getting at is that Pere Ubu is not so much a band as it is a form that needs a band from which to spring forth.
The ever-developing form Pere Ubu appropriates contemporary and past influences, shapes them to its own needs, and then spits out a unique, current form. The fact that Pere Ubu has been doing this in four consecutive decades is pretty mind blowing to this fan.
For example take Thomas's lyrics. On Shanghai he mixes quotes from Elvis, the Velvet Underground (Mandy), the Chambers Brothers (Musicians Are Scum), and Anita Ward (Thanks) with lyrics that contain descriptions of the world which he sees, a world in which the commonplace, the bus driver (Mandy) or the sun behind the curtains (the Carpenter Sun) take on aspects of the sublime; you know, poetry. Poetry is pretty clearly vital to form Pere Ubu.
David Thomas's voice is also vital to the Pere Ubu form. It will be impossible form the form to continue its real time development once he stops his work on its invocation. His voice has lost a bit of the high end bleat of yesteryear, but his deadpan narrative on tunes such as 414 Seconds or the Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed has grown richer and more believable with his aging. There can never be another form like that of Pere Ubu, and the uniqueness of Thomas's voice helps to ensure this fact.
The form of Rock music is generally defined by the electric guitar, and the Pere Ubu form, having sprung from the former, uses the electric guitar as well. On Lady From Shanghai guitarist Keith Moline keeps his playing quite simple, in the sense that it sticks to the melodic structures of each tune. His playing is not characterized by the heroic approach, in the sense that there are no solos; the songs are generally not structured within the traditional verse/chorus/verse/bridge/solo/chorus/verse parameters, and thus the action "guitar solo" is not missed. Moline's playing helps give shape to the form, and that seems to be enough. That's not to say he plays boring, though. His playing is expressive and unique in a way that gives support to the Ubu form.
Another vital aspect of the meta-form Rock is that of bass and drums. These two elements must be fused within a band, must lock in, in order to provide not only a ground from which the higher end treble instruments of guitar and voice provide melodic action, but also to move the tunes and those listening to them. It is from great rhythm sections that great bands spring. At the heights of its form, Pere Ubu is indeed a great band, and the current rhythm section of Steve Mehlman on drums and Michele Temple on bass are indeed a great rhythm section.  Their rhythmic lock on tunes such as Lampshade Man and Mandy evince the effectiveness of that vital aspect of the Pere Ubu form: a kind of marching beat, tinged with motorik feel, but somehow heavier. An arty stomp, and Industrial shuffle. These two have been the rhythmic stewards of the Pere Ubu form for some time now, and their experience within it shows in the easy swing of their delivery.
The Pere Ubu form has also been defined by an experimental side, almost as much as it has been by its Rock side. Thomas and Co.'s willingness to inject their songs with approaches from the music world's more experimental corners has been in effect since the band's beginnings. Lady From Shanghai features many fine examples of this feature of the form, from the thought provoking mash up of Thomas Edison's reading of Mary Had a Little Lamb with programmed beats on Feuksly Ma'am, the Hearing to the delicious electronic warfare din at the ending of the Carpenter Sun and the abruptly started percussive art on And Then Nothing Happened. Just about every tune on the LP has strange sounds jumping out from within the tunes. It is vital to the form Pere Ubu that odd sounds be present, and they always provide for interesting listening. On Shanghai, band members Robert Wheeler, Gagarin (any number of synths, keys, and whirligigs), and Darryl Boon (clarinet), along with Thomas, Mehlman, and Temple, have recorded some of their best, most concise actions of this dynamic.
The Hamann family and their SUMA Studio has long been a vital piece of the Pere Ubu form. As with almost all other recordings issued from the band, a Hamann is the engineer on Lady From Shanghai. Paul Hamann's recording job is clean, capturing the Pere Ubu form in all of its treble-ey power. The sound seems more compressed than some recent recordings (St. Arkansas), but the highs are nicely audible without spinning off into space, and the lows are nicely present. A really good, clean recording was achieved, per the usual standards of the Avant-Garage. 
Disaster Amnesiac takes continual delight in the on going permutations of the Pere Ubu form. Lady From Shanghai provides fine new hearings from this most venerable of Rock experiments. It is very much a high point in its long, stellar development.

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