In an interview on the TV series Rockin’ in the UK in 1989, David Thomas was asked if he looks back with regret, or experiences embarrassment about what he is doing now in comparison to the past. He responded with an analogy about Pere Ubu being like a cup that he is holding. In the analogy, a cup is still a cup, regardless of the angle from which you look at it, and regardless of ingredients added or removed. Most people won’t recognize a cup when they see it from a strange angle—they wouldn’t buy cups if they could only see the bottom of the cup, tilted to the side. But it’s still a cup, regardless of how it is viewed or presented, and David Thomas has spent many decades conditioning a small, but devoted audience to understand every angle of the cup.
“Every band I’ve ever done for the last 40 or however many years it is—50? I don’t know what it is anymore—has been Pere Ubu,” Thomas says today over Zoom from London, laughing at the impossibility of recounting it all correctly. “Or you could say it’s all been Rocket From the Tombs. At various points, I just use different people, you know. I don’t do bands differently. And I approach every single band the same way: I put interesting people together, or I help put interesting people together, and develop the music, develop the sound out of that.” To Thomas, it’s all been one long road. “I’m the guy who guides the thing, you know?” Thomas says. “And I’m the guy who directs it and conducts it and puts it together and keeps it going.”
Most people don’t know who Thomas is, despite the fact that he has been revolutionizing American art and music for nearly half a century. In 1974, Cleveland’s Rocket From the Tombs was the proto-punk exit ramp, the final blast of the violent pursuit of power going back and forth between Cleveland and Detroit via the extraordinarily strong signal of Windsor, Ontario’s CKLW in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Out of the ashes of Rocket emerged two bands: the Dead Boys, who relocated the chaotic and nihilistic side of their previous band to New York City at the behest of Joey Ramone; and Thomas’ next group, Pere Ubu, who stayed in Cleveland, advancing a sonic language that was entirely unique and thoroughly Midwestern.
“Pere Ubu is not like any other band that there’s ever been or that there ever will be,” Thomas says. “It’s just a shame that we’ve never been successful, you know? But maybe that’s why.” He thinks there could be some other reasons, though: “I’m kind of handsome, but I’ve always been overweight. If only I’d been thin and been able to sing without having to conceptualize the singing and invent new ways to sing, you know? If I’d had a natural voice, I would have done anything to be Jon Bon Jovi.” (Thomas has synesthesia and is basically tone deaf; something he did not realize until the mid-‘90s.)
He had no particular interest in music at all until he started writing for Cleveland alternative weekly The Scene in the early ‘70s; instead, he had a very literary upbringing in the historic and affluent Shaker Heights suburb. His father was an American literature professor who was often busy teaching, but “would always be quoting Walt Whitman or Vachel Lindsay,” Thomas recalls. He was in third grade when he first encountered the tale of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942 in the World War II memoir 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, a story he enjoyed so much he eventually put it to music; something he continued doing throughout his work in Pere Ubu and other bands. For example, the lyrics to one of their earliest singles, “Heart of Darkness,” are a pastiche of Raymond Chandler set to music that is supposed to evoke driving into Cleveland from a specific direction. But Thomas dropped out of college; he was more interested in repurposing the detritus of pop culture to his own ends and found the poetic nature of rock music much more striking than actual poets, an education that began at The Scene.
Thomas started out doing copy layout on wax tables, spending every Tuesday night drinking a whole bottle of vodka and chewing tobacco while laying out the magazine until four in the morning. He claims he was very good at his job; his intoxication never prevented his lines from being dead straight, but eventually the terrible copy got him working with his X-Acto blade to repaste and realign apostrophes and such. To save time, the editor promoted Thomas to copy editor, but when writers began complaining that he ruined their copy, the editor suggested Thomas start writing his own. Rocket From the Tombs emerged from his work at The Scene—”to promote the paper” and “pull up the scene,” Thomas recalls.
At the time Thomas was working in music journalism, Cleveland was the most important rock ‘n’ roll market in the country. “If you were gonna break in America, you broke in Cleveland,” Thomas says. “And if you broke in Cleveland, America was next. Cleveland is the most musically educated city in the damn country. The music stores specialized in everything; everything that was released in the world was sold in the Cleveland record stores.” Cleveland broke David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and the Velvet Underground to the national market. “Rock’n’ roll” itself is a term popularized in the American mainstream by Akron and Cleveland DJ Alan Freed, who brought it to the masses in the early ’50s. By the end of the ’70s, this started to dissipate, but in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Cleveland was the cradle of the future of rock music.
Cleveland’s incredibly rich and endlessly inventive local radio culture meant that locals were well ahead of the rest of the world. “We were tuned in. We knew what was going on. We could see the history of rock music unfold, we could see it moving towards us, and we could see that it was now our time to take it up and move it forward. It was very clear—very, very clear—that [it was] our place in history, and our obligation in history, and it was our turn, it was our turn!!! We were the right people in the right place at the right time, and we did it.”
But at the same time that Cleveland had these enormous cultural resources, it was also a metropolis in decline. At the end of the 19th century, it was the most prosperous city in the country, on track to outstrip New York: industrialist’s estates would extend half a mile north to the shore of Lake Erie. But by the ‘70s, John D. Rockefeller’s first warehouse had become known to a new generation as the Pirate’s Cove: a small, intimate venue where many wild and wacky regional bands played regularly. “It was an entire civilization that then disappeared,” Thomas explains. “And we ended up, by the 1970s, living in the ruins of an ancient civilization beyond imagination, and we were very aware that we lived in the ruins of an ancient civilization.”
A thriving colony of artists, musicians, and writers took up residence in a building called the Plaza, which quickly became the main organ of the Cleveland scene at that time. The Plaza was originally built by industrial millionaires to house their mistresses, as it was at one time located just one block off Millionaire’s Row. By the ’70s, it was in the middle of the red-light district, which is how future Pere Ubu synthesist Allen Ravenstine and co-owner David Bloomquist were able to buy it dirt cheap. When it was time to move from Rocket From the Tombs into Pere Ubu, Thomas’s focus was on the Plaza—that’s where all of the original members of the early years came from: Tom Herman, Scott Krauss, Tony Maimone, Allen Ravenstine, Peter Laughner, Dave Taylor, Tim Wright, and David Thomas.
Pere Ubu is not only one cup, but also one road. Thomas describes it as a “gestalt of culture, geography, and sound.” He leaves reference points along the road: continuations, clarifications, new perspectives. All the band’s songs are part of one continuous story; while the road remains the same road, the view changes over time. In the boisterous opening of 1979’s New Picnic Time, on “The Fabulous Sequel (Have Shoes, Will Walk),” Thomas shouts: “It’s me again!! Hey…hey…hey—it’s me again!!!!” It’s the cup introducing itself from its new angle; a lot of people aren’t going to recognize this as the same band that made 1978’s Dub Housing, but that voice is unmistakable. About a minute in, Thomas starts singing repeatedly, “It was a dream, it was a tin can: It was a dream,” before affirming “kick, kick that dream down! Kick that dream down the street!” The motif returns a decade later in the gorgeous, dreamlike “Breath” which opens up 1989’s Cloudland, but this time Thomas is insistent that it was a tin can and not a dream, pondering what would have happened had he not kicked it. Dreams don’t become realities just by being dreamt; they require effort.
For Thomas, the road has always been about the pursuit of perfect music. He doesn’t believe in continuing down the road if you’ve achieved your end. “When I started Pere Ubu, I wanted to create a band that somebody like William Faulkner or Herman Melville or Mark Twain would want to be in,” Thomas explains. “So, those are just the terms. I’m not going to apologize for being smart, I’m not going to apologize for being pretentious, for having ambition. I want to make something that has lasting value. This is what I do, you know? And I keep doing it. I’m 69 years old, and I have a limited future ahead of me, and I’m gonna keep my foot on the pedal ‘til I hit the wall. I’ll be recording music 45 minutes before I die—and not because I have a career anymore, not because I can make a particularly brilliant living out of it—but because I have a passion for the work, and I keep doing it, because—damn it, I’m gonna get it. I’m gonna get it. I’m gonna get it. I’m gonna drive this thing to the end.”
Here are 14 releases demonstrating how visionary, prolific, and arduous the road has been and should be expected to remain as long as David Thomas is still kicking.
Rocket From the Tombs
The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
One factor in Cleveland not receiving the credit it’s due for the modernization of rock music in the ‘70s is that its earliest proto-punk bands were too violent and chaotic to exist for very long: Rocket From the Tombs and electric eels exploded and then imploded in a flash. Additionally, many early figures in the city’s history of ‘60s and ‘70s alternative culture—like poet, artist, and publisher d.a. levy and the Rockets’s own Peter Laughner—died while still very young. While Rocket From the Tombs didn’t exist long enough to record an album in their initial formation, bootlegs of live recordings and demos circulated, and none other than Lester Bangs called them “the original legendary underground rock band.”
This compilation of those demos and live takes was released by Smog Veil in 2002. “Life Stinks,” “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” and “Final Solution” became Pere Ubu songs after the dissolution of Rockets, while the Dead Boys ran off to New York with “Sonic Reducer,” “What Love is,” “Ain’t It Fun,” and “Down in Flames.” Craig Bell (Mirrors, Saucers) moved to Connecticut and played “Muckraker”, “Frustration”, and “Read It and Weep” with Saucers. However, some of the greatest tunes on here didn’t survive the end of the band, ”Transfusion” and “So Cold,” for example.
Following interest in the band generated by the Smog Veil reissue, Rocket from the Tombs reunited multiple times with a shifting 21st century line-up beginning in 2003, featuring original members Thomas (as Crocus Behemoth) and Bell. They’ve composed multiple new albums, including many new compositions, new takes on old Rockets classics like “Sonic Reducer” and “Read It and Weep” and, in band tradition, covers of classic garage rock tunes like “Strychnine” by the Sonics. Black Record is their most recent outing.
The Hearpen Singles
When Rocket From the Tombs fell apart, Thomas wanted to at least have some kind of record of the band. The idea for the earliest Pere Ubu singles was to document what Thomas considers his best contributions to that earlier project—”Final Solution” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”—but along the way, “Heart of Darkness” appeared, too. They decided to release “Tokyo” b/w “Heart of Darkness” first, then maybe release “Final Solution” as the next one. Thus began the Hearthan label (eventually revised to Hearpen), on which Thomas put out all of the earliest Pere Ubu singles. This release compiles all of them for the modern listener, but it’s worth pointing out that the “Final Solution” single has been reissued in a limited edition pressing which recreates its original presentation, including cover image and liner notes by the late Tim Wright.
All of these singles were originally released between 1975 and 1977. Tim Wright (DNA) played on the earliest tracks, before joining many Northeast Ohio natives like the Cramps, Dead Boys, and half of the Bush Tetras in becoming part of the punk and no wave scenes in NYC. For most of the next two decades, he would be replaced by Tony Maimone, who would spend much of his tenure with the band holding it down with drummer Scott Kraus, in one of the most unacceptably overlooked rhythm sections in the history of rock music. After the death of Peter Laughner, Tom Herman (Tripod Jimmie) became the band’s primary guitar player.
The Modern Dance
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The Modern Dance may be Pere Ubu’s first full length, but it’s not really an album in the sense of being a cohesive and intentional presentation; it was pieced together from singles and earlier Rockets tunes like “Life Stinks,” with a few new songs they wrote just before they recorded it. Thomas says, “If you’re one of these people who thinks The Modern Dance is the be-all and end-all of Pere Ubu, then you could say [imitating the voice of an annoying person] ‘Oh, well, it’s because it’s before David made everything a concept.’ Well, yeah, fine, you know, but that’s not how I remember it.” Most of the album was recorded and mixed by Ken Hamann at Suma Recording Studio in November 1977 in Painesville, Ohio–Hamann produced Ubu until his retirement in 1979, at which point his son Paul took over, recording nearly every Pere Ubu album at Suma until his death in 2017.
“Humor Me ” was written as a reaction to the death of former band guitarist Peter Laughner and the title track showcases their signature industrial noise inspirations with its repetitive clinking sound, combined with the abstract technological spurts of Ravenstine’s EMS synthesizer throughout. “Street Waves” was inspired by a pile of used tires for sale on Detroit Ave. What was likely an urban myth in Cleveland in the 70s—the city having the highest population of Maoists outside of China—led to the conceptualization of “Chinese Radiation,” which also is the premise for the album’s cover.
Widely considered to be their “master work” and one of the most important “post-punk” recordings ever made, Thomas has little to say about Dub Housing—which makes sense; it’s been talked to death. “The first real album was Dub Housing, which was nothing,” Thomas says. “It was a bunch of songs to be written as one unit. When we put Dub Housing together, we played it for our manager who went on to become a significant force in music. He’s currently the manager of Metallica; Metallica was the band he wanted Pere Ubu to be, basically. And he sat there in the studio and he said, ‘This album is brilliant. All you have to do is do this album two or three more times, and you will be mega stars.’ And Allen Ravenstine, I remember to this day, turned to him and said, ‘Well, what if we can’t,’” Thomas laughs. “‘What if we don’t want to?’ And [Cliff Burnstein] said, ‘Well, as long as you continue to make brilliant music, somebody will want to put it out.’ And Allen said, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty good.’”
Dub Housing was the first album cover designed by Cleveland “junk conceptualist” John ‘Johnny Dromette’ Thompson, who put it together using the xerox machine at the drugstore next to Hideo’s Discodrome, the record shop he owned where Thomas and many other Cleveland scene participants worked. The cover is a view of the Plaza at 3206 Prospect Ave., taken from its back parking lot. The girl in the window is Jean Kormos, the ‘Ubu Girl’ who appears on the back of The Modern Dance album, under the bridge on the New Picnic Time cover, and on the car hood on the front of the Datapanik in the Year Zero EP.
New Picnic Time
Thomas is noted for being a contrarian. After Pere Ubu released Dub Housing in 1978, the UK press wouldn’t stop calling the band, “the end of rock and roll.” Thomas took this as a challenge. “I said, ‘What bologna: I’ll show you the end of rock and roll,’” Thomas recalls. Every Pere Ubu album beginning with New Picnic Time is thus a new iteration of the end of rock and roll, just to prove that Thomas himself will be the one who ultimately decides when it’s finished.
Thomas always had doubts about this release, for a variety of reasons. It was the last album Ken Hamaan ever engineered, and Suma was a new studio; there were acoustic problems in the control room that hadn’t been sorted out. “It wasn’t until years later, when the album was remastered and put out again by Fire [Records], that I realized we had been right about New Picnic Time all along: that it was a brilliant record that advanced the band in exactly the way it should have done, and it was just incredibly unpopular with the record companies and things, you know, but that’s tough,” Thomas declares. “We were right, and they were wrong. Or I was right, and they were wrong. There—how you look at it.”
With this release, Pere Ubu pushed themselves as far forward as they could as an artistic force, but Tom Herman hated the direction Thomas was moving them in and left the band to pursue his own artistic vision with Tripod Jimmie.
The Art of Walking
After Herman’s departure, Ravenstine and Thomas were down at the Agora Theater watching the Talking Heads. “I turned to Allen and I said to him: ‘We were better than these guys,’” Thomas recalls. Ravenstine’s reply was simply: “Mayo Thompson.” The founder of experimental rock band Red Krayola, Thompson was already a friend of theirs, and became Pere Ubu’s new guitarist for The Art of Walking, which marked an absolute u-turn from New Picnic Time. Thomas saw it as an “album that was like water draining from a bathtub, you know, and you look at the water going down the spout, and they’re all circling around and around, and the spout is defined by what it isn’t. The album was to be defined by what it isn’t, what it doesn’t say.” It might be surprising to many that the album sold better than any of the earlier Pere Ubu records for quite some time. “It was a very successful work, and we did some very unusual things,” Thomas affirms.
Promoting the album on tour with Gang of Four in 1981, Pere Ubu employed a technique called “reality dub,” where they would brilliantly orchestrate a breakdown during the song “Not Happy,” which had the audience on the edges of their seats, terrified about what may happen. Thomas says this is where he learned “the best way to deal with an audience is to scare it” and that “what an audience wants more than anything else in the world is to feel that they are experiencing something unique to them, and that what they are experiencing is being held together by bloodied fingernails.” Thomas acknowledges that audiences may think they want perfect representations of records, “but if you want them to love you, to love you year after year, and to be devoted to you, then you scare the shit out of them,” he exclaims.
Song of the Bailing Man
Drummer Scott Krauss quit the band following the Art of Walking tour. Anton Fier (Lounge Lizards, Feelies, Voidoids, Golden Palominos), who had filled in for Krauss the first time he quit the band briefly (right before The Modern Dance) dutifully stepped back in. This album was intended to be very precisely formulated and constructed; the exact opposite of its immediate precursor. At the encouragement of Geoff Travis, head of Rough Trade Records, they brought in Adam Kidron as a producer. However, tensions between Fier and Thompson made life miserable for everyone in the band, and after touring this album, nobody in the band wanted to talk to anybody else. There was never a formal break up, according to Thomas; Pere Ubu just disappeared for a while.
When Pere Ubu disappeared, Thomas decided to “go back to zero,” which meant going on stage by himself or with one other person and trying to hold an audience’s attention for an hour. He decided if he could do that, that he would continue as a musician. Rough Trade wanted him to do some solo records. This solo sampler includes work with frequent Pere Ubu collaborators, as well as Ralph Carney (Tin Huey), Jim Jones (Mirrors, electric eels), Chris Cutler and Lindsay Cooper (Henry Cow), and Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention).
During this period, he composed The Monster Walks the Winter Lake under David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, which he still considers to be the best and most personal album he has ever made. He realized he was creating his greatest work improvisationally in the studio, so he wanted to apply the same techniques to a rock band. Fans who came to those shows kept saying it sounded just like Pere Ubu, and when they looked around the room, they had to acknowledge at that point the line-up was very close to Pere Ubu again–Maimone and Ravenstein were back in the picture for this Wooden Birds line-up. “We decided that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck: it’s a duck,” Thomas says.
Cloudland / Worlds in Collision
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
This is the era—also captured in this tidy box set—where Pere Ubu’s combination of art and pop sensibility reaches its greatest cohesion, resulting in the first Pere Ubu albums that could be appreciated by much wider audiences.
For Cloudland, they had signed to Fontana, a big Phonogram label in England run by legendary A&R man named Dave Bates. “Dave Bates was a lunatic, and he spent Phonogram’s money like it was going out of style,” Thomas says. After The Tenement Year, Thomas was convinced they needed a producer, and Dave Bates definitely wanted them to have a producer. He hooked them up with Stephen Hague, who was not only one of the most significant producers in the world at the time, but also a lifelong fan of Pere Ubu. Cloudland was recorded in the most expensive studio in London, with the most expensive technology and with Hague, who assembled the whole album very meticulously. It was something they’d never been able to experience before.
On Worlds in Collision, Pere Ubu teamed up with Gil Norton, who produced the Pixies, and once again had the opportunity to work on the cutting edge of things. Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, Residents, Fear, Pixies) was new to the band and there were disputes between him and Thomas about the direction Norton was moving them in. Thomas also struggled a lot with Norton telling him what to do and making him redo things, but when the album was finished Norton came to Thomas and said, “You know, I never should have tried to tell you what to do, because I don’t understand what you do.”
The box set version also contains two additional LPs. 1988’s The Tenement Year features two drummers (Chris Cutler and Scott Krauss) and despite being a reunion album, it’s about the beginning of a journey to leave Cleveland. “My concept was that you’re standing on the top of your rehearsal building in the night, knowing that the next morning, you’re leaving town.” And The Lost Album consists of 11 demos, four of which were originally supposed to be on the follow-up to Cloudland, but were lost due to length limitations of vinyl. Here they are found and reconstituted alongside two songs inspired by Van Dyke Parks, an artist Thomas respects so much he hung up the phone out of nervousness when Parks answered his call to work out a collaboration.
On the Road to the Lost Album
This epic live set, recorded July 14, 1991 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, is Pere Ubu’s longest performance. Thomas reports that they “played every song [they] knew and only left because [we] had nothing left.” It’s the final show of the Worlds in Collision European tour, which was likely the busiest in the band’s incredibly long history, with 96 performances—including 38 dates opening for the Pixies in the US and Canada—and a three date festival tour of Scandinavia with Kool and the Gang and the Blues Brothers Band. The encore here is nearly as long as the main set, showcasing an incredible band at the absolute top of their game, giving everything they’ve got to their craft and to their audience. The set covers mostly songs from the 1987 to 1991 period with some classics like “Final Solution” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” thrown in.
David Thomas & Two Pale Boys
Thomas describes his David Thomas and Two Pale Boys project as “avant-garde traditional folk music from the future performed with post-dance technology.” In this project, his first solo venture since the reformation of Pere Ubu in 1987, Thomas is accompanied by Keith Moliné on guitar and Andy Diagram on trumpet. Thomas also plays melodeon. These performances are improvisational and entirely unique, presented as “an exploration of what can be achieved.” Each was recorded in various places along the road on a 29 date European tour in the fall of 1996 to promote their album Erewhon, released on Cooking Vinyl Records that year.
Meadville is located fifteen miles north of the Thomas family farm in Utica, Pennsylvania, and it’s also where Thomas’s brother lives. Many songs from the Two Pale Boys project and some Pere Ubu albums were written on the roads and highways around there: “Weird Cornfields,” “Ghosts,” “The River,” “Golden Surf,” “Nobody Knows,” “Woolie Bullie,” and others. The cover is adapted from artwork designed by John Thompson for a release that never happened. The flowers made from traffic signs are part of the display around the Meadville, Pennsylvania Road Works depot on US Route 322.
Drive, He Said: 1994 – 2002
This box set encompasses Raygun Suitcase, Pennsylvania, and St. Arkansas, covering Pere Ubu’s career from the mid-90s into the early 21st century. It also features a disc of extras called Back Roads. All of these releases are thematically concerned with driving through America.
The lineup on Raygun Suitcase is Scott Benedict on drums after Krauss quit (for the third time), Robert Wheeler and Michele Temple (Home and Garden), Jim Jones, and David Thomas. Steve Mehlman (Rocket From the Tombs) took over on drums shortly after. As work on the album was beginning, Thomas reports that manager Nick Hobbs announced to the band that Pere Ubu were “dead in the water commercially–not arty enough for the art crowd, too arty and too old for the rock crowd. The old albums have sold as much as they are going to. Unless the next album is exceptional, it’s over.” Perhaps as a contrarian result, this album marks a turn back towards the darker and more experimental landscapes of earlier Ubu, after their run of more slickly produced pop-oriented albums. It is exceptional, but in the tradition of the band, in ways that aren’t commercially successful. For Raygun Suitcase, engineer Paul Hamann decided they would only use traditional microphones for backing vocals; he experimented with “junkophonics,” where he would transform speakers, door frames, wooden boxes, and metal horns into microphones.
Pennsylvania marked Tom Herman’s return to Pere Ubu following a twenty year absence, as Jim Jones’s health had deteriorated too much to continue touring. The album is meant to describe the space between where you are and where you want to be, and takes its inspiration from the early days of Pere Ubu, when they would drive a thousand miles round trip mostly through the utter wilderness of Pennsylvania in 24 hours to play a gig at CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City in NYC.
Where Pennsylvania is more cinematic and showcases the impact of film studies on Thomas’s work as a musician, St. Arkansas reveals more of the influence of UHF channels, transistor radio, and “junk culture.” It’s a concept album in which Thomas decided to undertake a journey down through Nashville to Memphis down Highway 60 to Arkansas and back and let the road write the album.
Nuke the Whales: 2006 – 2014
Vinyl Box Set
The most recent of the reissue box sets on Fire Records, Nuke the Whales takes its name from a slogan that graffiti artists Fred and Ethel Mertz would write over news billboard advertisements between 1971 and 1973 in Cleveland. This box set includes the albums Why I Luv Women, Long Live Pere Ubu, The Lady from Shanghai, and Carnival of Souls. Thomas has written books about the making and meanings of these last three releases. Why I Luv Women is predicated on the world of Jim Thompson’s gritty crime novels. Thomas believes that if you don’t study the work of Orson Welles, you are wasting your time as an artist; The Lady from Shanghai attempts to apply the perspective techniques Welles uses in the film of the same name to music. Carnival of Souls continues on that cinematic road, as an underscore to the film. Long Live Pere Ubu resulted from the band beginning to do live soundtracks to films, which inspired Thomas to do a radical adaptation of the Alfred Jarry play Pere Ubu takes its name from–the already very radical Ubu Roi–which Thomas titled Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi.
Live: Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi
This release is a live recording of one of the performances of Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi. It premiered April 25 and 26, 2008 at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Since then it has been reproduced at festivals and in concert. Here Thomas attempts to infuse theater with the same disquiet and mayhem Pere Ubu have been applying to music production since 1975. A truly massive undertaking, Pere Ubu performed live music framed by fourteen wide-screen animations by The Brothers Quay, which were synced to the music live in real time. The production contained constant disruptions and intrusions to the central narrative. Musically, it features improvisation, audio samples, and ambient electronica. While other bands have dabbled in theater before, for Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi the band themselves undertook all of the tasks of a theatrical production: direction, stage management, light design, and the fabrication of all costumes and props. Much like how Jarry’s work was ahead of formal Dadaist, Surrealist, and Absurdist artistic and philosophical movements, Thomas’s oeuvre has always been far ahead of the cultural curve.