First Band Ever to Repay Debts
Writer: AARON JENTZEN
Thirty years after forming the group in Cleveland, Pere Ubu front man
and director David Thomas can still muster up "an utter disdain for
the Steelers and much mirth over the Pirates' perennial condition."
Even though he has allegedly lived in England since 1984, somehow his
taste for the rivalry between our Mid-Whatever cities remains fairly
intact. Fortunately, he says Ubu will perform "wherever the promoter
pays us to do it," even -- Pittsburgh.
So, thank the coffers of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Dollar Bank for
treating us to the incongruous spectacle of these underground music
icons sauntering into the old-timey Regent Square Theater on Sat.,
Nov. 5, when Pere Ubu performs its live underscore to Roger Corman's
classic sci-fi B-movie X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, as part of the
Three Rivers Film Festival.
Pere Ubu's avant-rock assault began in 1975, when seminal Cleveland
group Rocket From the Tombs split its personnel and song catalog
between Ubu and the more straightforward Dead Boys. Over the years,
Ubu's eccentricities, rotating cast of musicians and
on-again-off-again nature have become legendary: Suffice it to say,
weird people are involved, with weird goals and operating systems.
Clevelanders, in other words. The lineup for the Pittsburgh date
includes Keith Moline, Robert Wheeler, Michele Temple and Steve
Mehlman; most joined Ubu in the mid-'90s with already impressive
resumes, and appeared on 1998's Pennsylvania, while Moline co-founded
the group David Thomas and the Two Pale Boys in England in 1995.
When a group earns comparisons to Captain Beefheart, Zappa, The Fall,
even Tom Waits, all you really know is, expect the unexpected. "I sing
in a couple places, otherwise I have some samples I use and I
conduct," Thomas says. "The underscore is fairly tightly organized."
Sounds fairly straightforward, right?
"But I will often depart or extend what's going on musically,
depending on circumstances. In other words, if someone has got an
interesting idea going I will direct the band to follow that person
and see where it takes us. Sometimes I will arbitrarily send the band
off on an unplanned tangent, again, to see what happens, what new
avenues open up." After the film, the group plays classic Ubu songs as
Ubu's goals with the film underscore seem oddly humble, in that any
city's resident music dorks would likely still line around the block
to see it play along to Bambi or Sleepless in Seattle. Despite the
band's grail-like quality, "we're not there to show off," says Thomas.
"But we try to bring out different angles, intensify the film's
dynamics or re-contextualize it. It's interesting taking a third
party's agenda as a structure and then synthesizing something that is
cooperative. It becomes something like a folk, communal experience."
X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes and Ubu have already "cooperated" in
several U.S. cities; the group also toured Great Britain last November
accompanying the last 3-D print of It Came From Outer Space, based on
a Ray Bradbury story. These presentations allow Ubu to repay a debt of
influence to the Friday-night sci-fi film genre, for which its dark,
paranoid theatricality seems particularly suited.
"The B-movie in its day was an inviting canvas for kids growing up in
strange times," Thomas explains. "The lack of a budget resulted in a
minimal degree of scrutiny and a lax attitude to things like
continuity, cohesion, logic, back story, or even the need for
believable female characters who, generally, as every sci-fi fan
knows, just slow things down anyway. The benefit to the young artist
comes from odd narrative shapes and the discipline to find meaning in
Even if attending Ubu's show simply for the film's sake is a bit like
buying Playboy for the articles, there is a bonus for lovers of
Corman's 1960s sci-fi vision: a restoration of the film's already
surprising ending. "The end is a nice twist and we 're-store' the
supposedly 'lost' ending that Steve Spielberg (and myself) believe was
cut," says Thomas. "Roger Corman denies it, but if you know the film
you know it has a very abrupt end that definitely suggests something …
which I won't give away right now."
But it's not difficult to talk him into it. "Oh phooey, as long as you
don't mention it in the article … "
Pere Ubu performs during a screening of X: The Man With the X-Ray
Eyes. 11 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5. Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock
Ave., Edgewood. $15. 412-682-4111