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Pere Ubu performing in Vienna, 2009.
|Origin||Cleveland, Ohio, United States|
|Genres||Art punk, post-punk, art rock|
|Years active||1975–1982, 1987–present|
|Labels||Hearthan, Blank, Mercury, Radar, Chrysalis, Rough Trade, Fontana, Imago, Tim/Kerr, Cooking Vinyl, DGC, Thirsty Ear, Smog Veil, Fire, Cherry Red|
|Associated acts||Rocket from the Tombs, The Red Krayola, Home and Garden|
Eric Drew Feldman
Pere Ubu is an American rock group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. Despite a variety of long-term band members, singer David Thomas is the only constant. Describing their sound as "avant-garage," Pere Ubu's work drew inspiration from sources such as musique concrète, 60s rock, performance art, and the industrial environments of the American midwest. While the band achieved little commercial success, they have exerted a wide influence on subsequent underground music.
Rocket from the Tombs was a Cleveland-based group that eventually fragmented: some members formed The Dead Boys, and others The Saucers, while David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner joined with guitarist Tom Herman, bass guitarist Tim Wright, drummer Scott Krauss and synthesist Allen Ravenstine to form Pere Ubu in 1975. At the time the band formed, Herman, Krauss, and Ravenstine lived in a house owned by Ravenstine. The group's name is a reference to Ubu Roi, an avant-garde play by French writer Alfred Jarry.
Pere Ubu's debut single (their first four records were singles on their own "Hearthan" label) was "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" (inspired by the "Doolittle Raid" and named after a film depicting the raid), backed with "Heart of Darkness"; followed by "Final Solution" in 1976. One review noted that "30 Seconds" "was clearly the work of a garage band, yet its arty dissonance and weird experimentalism were startlingly unique."
Other recordings of the 1970s
"Street Waves" b/w "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)" was their third single, and after their fourth single, "The Modern Dance" b/w 'Heaven" (which was pressed in very small quantities and contained a completely different mix of "Dance"), Pere Ubu signed to Blank Records, a short-lived imprint of Mercury Records.
Their debut album, The Modern Dance (1978), contained a remix of "The Modern Dance" and the original mix of "Street Waves", sold poorly, but has proven influential. Musicians of many types, including progressive rock, punk rock, post punk and new wave, were influenced by the dark, abstract record. With the song "Sentimental Journey," the debut also introduced the practice of re-appropriating titles from well-known popular songs: Pere Ubu's "Sentimental Journey" has no obvious relation to the Doris Day hit song of the same name; "Drinking Wine Spodyody" has no apparent connection to the Sticks McGhee song (later revived by Jerry Lee Lewis). This practice has continued through 2006's Why I Hate Women, which has a song called "Blue Velvet" (again, no relation to the 1963 hit song by Bobby Vinton).
Special note should be made of Ravenstine's contributions to Pere Ubu. While most synthesizer players tended to play the instrument as they would a piano or organ, Ravenstine generally opted instead to make sounds that were reminiscent of spooky sound effects from 1950s science fiction films, or perhaps electronic music and musique concrète. One critic writes that Ravenstine "may be one of the all-time great synth players"  and his playing has been called "utterly original".
By the late 1980s, one of Thomas's solo projects eventually featured much of Pere Ubu. The band was reformed again in 1987, with Jim Jones and Chris Cutler joining for the release of The Tenement Year (1988), a far more pop-oriented album than ever before. The following year, "Waiting for Mary" (off Cloudland) appeared on MTV briefly. After the recording of Cloudland, Ravenstine left the group (although he made a guest appearance on Worlds in Collision) and later became an airline pilot. Eric Drew Feldman joined the band in time for the Cloudland tour and the recording of Worlds in Collision but left afterwards, joining Frank Black.
1990s and beyond
Story of My Life (1993) was released; Maimone left (once again) to join They Might Be Giants, and Michele Temple and Garo Yellin joined the band for the Story of My Life tour and feature on Ubu's 1995 album, Ray Gun Suitcase. Robert Wheeler has played synthesizer and theremin with Pere Ubu since 1994. Krauss left the band during the Ray Gun Suitcase sessions. For the Ray Gun Suitcase tour, guitarist Jim Jones departed as a touring member (although he continued to contribute to recordings), founding guitarist Tom Herman replaced him for the tour.
Concurrent with the 1996 release of the Datapanik in Year Zero box set, Jim Jones retired due to health problems. Tom Herman returned to the band after a twenty-year absence to tour with the band in 1995, and went on to record Pennsylvania (1998) and St. Arkansas in 2002. Jim Jones contributed guitar tracks to each album as well, and guitarist Wayne Kramer of MC5 fame joined the band for their 1998 summer tour. Herman left again in 2005, being replaced by Keith Moliné, of David Thomas's "solo" group Two Pale Boys. The new lineup completed an album entitled Why I Hate Women, which was released on 19 September 2006.
On 18 February 2008, Jim Jones died at his Cleveland residence.
On 24 April 2008 the Ether festival at the South Bank Centre (London, England) hosted the world premiere of Bring Me The Head of Ubu Roi. This adaptation by David Thomas of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi was accompanied by animations by the Brothers Quay. The production featured David Thomas as Pere Ubu and Sarah Jane Morris as Mere Ubu.
In 2010 Pere Ubu played a series of theatrical shows in the UK including a set at the Classic Grand in Glasgow's Jamaica Street.
To define their music, Pere Ubu coined the term avant-garage to reflect interest in both experimental avant-garde music (especially musique concrète) and raw, direct blues-influenced garage rock. Thomas has stated the term is "a joke invented to have something to give journalists when they yelp for a neat sound bite or pigeonhole". Their music has been called art-punk and post-punk. Their songs imagined 1950s and 1960s garage rock and surf music archetypes as seen in a distorting funhouse mirror, emphasising the music's angst, loneliness and lyrical paranoia. Sometimes sounding like a demented nursery rhyme sing-along, this already bizarre blend was overlaid with Ravenstine's ominous EML synthesizer effects and tape looped sounds of mundane conversation, ringing telephones or steam whistles. Their propulsive rhythmic pulse was similar to Krautrock, but Thomas's yelping, howling, desperate singing was and still is peculiar when compared to most other rock and roll singers.
- Current members
- David Thomas – lead vocals, keyboards, melodeon, musette, theremin (1975–82, 1987–present)
- Michele Temple – bass, guitar (1993–present)
- Robert Wheeler – synthesizer, theremin (1994–99, 1999-2007, 2009-present)
- Steve Mehlman – drums (1995-2002, 2005–present)
- Keith Moliné – guitar (2002, 2005–16, 2016–present)
- Gagarin – synthesizer, electronics (2007–16, 2016–present)
- Darryl Boon – clarinet (2013–16, 2016–present)
- Gary Siperko – guitar (2016–present)
- Christoph Hahn – steel guitar (2016–present)
- Former members
- Scott Krauss – drums, keyboards (1975–77, 1978–81, 1987–94)
- Allen Ravenstine – synthesizer, saxophone (1975, 1976–82, 1987–88)
- Tom Herman – guitar, bass (1975–79, 1995–98, 1998-2002, 2016)
- Tim Wright – bass, guitar (1975–76)
- Peter Laughner – guitar, bass (1975–76)
- Dave Taylor – synthesizer, organ (1975–76)
- Alan Greenblatt – guitar (1976)
- Tony Maimone – bass, guitar, keyboards (1976–82, 1987–93, 2003–04)
- Anton Fier – drums, marimba (1977–78, 1981–82)
- Mayo Thompson – guitar (1979–82)
- Jim Jones – guitar, keyboards (1987–94, 1994–95)
- Chris Cutler – drums, electronics (1987–90, 2002–05)
- Eric Drew Feldman – keyboards (1989–92)
- Garo Yellin – electric cello (1993–94)
- Paul Hamann – bass (1994)
- Scott Benedict – drums (1994–95)
- Wayne Kramer – guitar (1998)
- Andy Diagram – trumpet (1999, 2007)
- Sarah Jane Morris – vocals (2009)
- The Modern Dance (1978)
- Dub Housing (1978)
- New Picnic Time (1979)
- The Art of Walking (1980)
- Song of the Bailing Man (1982)
- The Tenement Year (1988)
- Cloudland (1989)
- Worlds in Collision (1991)
- Story of My Life (1993)
- Ray Gun Suitcase (1995)
- Pennsylvania (1998)
- St. Arkansas (2002)
- Why I Hate Women (2006)
- Lady from Shanghai (2013)
- Carnival of Souls (2014)
- 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017)
- Long Live Père Ubu! (2009, with Sarah Jane Morris)
Singles and EPs
- "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" (1975 – Side A: "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" – Side B: "Heart Of Darkness")
- "Final Solution" (1976 – Side A: "Final Solution" – Side B: "Cloud 149")
- "Street Waves" / "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)" (1976)
- "The Modern Dance" (1977 – Side A: "The Modern Dance" – Side B: "Heaven") This single version of "The Modern Dance" is not the same mix as the subsequent album and all reissues of the track (with the railroad spike). This makes this single (with the doll squeak) the only place to find the original mix
- "The Fabulous Sequel (Have Shoes Will Walk)" (1979 – Side A: "The Fabulous Sequel (Have Shoes Will Walk)" – Side B: B1 "Humor Me" B2 "The Book Is On The Table")
- "Datapanik In The Year Zero-A" (1980 – Side A: "Final Solution" – Side B: "My Dark Ages (I Don't Get Around)")
- "Not Happy" (1981 – Side A: "Not Happy" – Side B: "Lonesome Cowboy Dave")
- "We Have The Technology" (1988)
- "Breath" (1989)
- "Love Love Love" (1989)
- "Waiting For Mary (What Are We Doing Here)" (1989)
- "I Hear They Smoke The Barbecue" (1990)
- "Oh Catherine" (1991)
- "Folly Of Youth See Dee +" (1995)
- "Beach Boys See Dee +" (1996)
- "Slow Walking Daddy" (2002)
- "The Geography Of Sound In The Magnetic Age" (2003)
- 390° of Simulated Stereo (1981)
- One Man Drives While the Other Man Screams (1989)
- Apocalypse Now (1999)
- The Shape of Things (2000)
- London Texas (2009)
- Terminal Tower (1985) (collection of singles and b-sides)
- Folly of Youth (1996) (enhanced EP)
- B Each B Oys See Dee Plus (1996) (enhanced EP)
- Datapanik in Year Zero (1996) (boxed set)
|US Hot 100||US Modern Rock||US Mainstream Rock||UK|
|1989||"Waiting for Mary"||-||6||-||-||Cloudland|
|"Love Love Love"||-||-||-||88|
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