Those denizens “in the know” found their way to The Basement on a chilly mid-November evening, as Pere Ubu rolled into Columbus for another stop on The MonkeyNet Tour in support of their new album, “20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo.”
There was plenty of elbow room with the sparse crowd of less than 100 in attendance, allowing me to easily stake out a space at the bar. The lack of aural gourmets was somewhat surprising, given that the band sold out their last show in our city. I can only surmise that it was a combination of playing this venue for the first time and a lack of media coverage in Columbus.
Whatever the case may be, those that were there enjoyed a solid evening of musical delights. Local rockers Quemado opened the show, giving a good account of themselves. Up next, New England instrumentalists Minibeast (Providence, RI) set the tone for what was to come with tribal rhythms reverberating off the walls. The band is a side project of Peter Prescott (Mission Of Burma, Volcano Suns, Kustomized, Peer Group), and they are performing six shows with Pere Ubu on the this tour.
After the two opening support bands were finished, the crowd replenished their beverages of choice and made their way toward the stage. I settled-in next to the soundboard with a notebook and pen, awaiting David Thomas et. al. to begin their set, intrigued by the addition of Kristof Hahn on steel guitar to the lineup and what effect that would have on the music.
The MonkeyNet Tour incarnation of Pere Ubu is comprised of Thomas (vocals), Gary Siperko (guitar), Robert Wheeler (analog synths, Theremin), Michele Temple (bass guitar, backing vocals), Steve Mehlman (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Kristof Hahn (steel guitar). Their 16-song set included six songs from the new album, proving they are still a viable force to be reckoned with.
Precisely at 10 p.m., the band walked onstage, sans Thomas, and launched into a bass and drum-driven groove, signaling the beginning of Slow Walking Daddy. Right on cue, clad in a black leather jacket and wearing his trademark black hat, Thomas ambled across the stage to his seat situated front and center. A single bottle of wine was perched on a road case next to his chair.
The band was tight, as you would expect for the eighth show of the tour. Wheeler was conjuring eeriness from his theramin, while Temple quickly found the pocket with the bottom end.
The mosaic coalesced into focus, as the solid rocking groove of Breath washed over us next. With the crowd paying rapt attention, Temple was deep in the groove, with Siperko darting in-and-out with tasty guitar riffs.
At this point, Thomas took a moment to pour himself a small glass of Santa Ema Merlot. He then announced that “My body is broken, but my mind is more dangerous,” before bringing the tempo up with a rocking rendition of Goodnite Irene. Siperko once again was darting into the open spaces, adding more ominous sounding riffs as Thomas and Temple harmonized very well.
Not one to mince words, Thomas declared “I’m gonna do some songs about damn monkeys. Here you go,” with the band going fast and uptempo with Monkey Bizness, the first track from the new album. Temple showed she’s got the funk, laying down a wonderfully hip groove with her bass.
Changing the pace, the slower, almost dirge-like notes of Carnival wafted throughout the venue, with Thomas commanding everyone’s attention with his almost spoken-word vocal delivery. Deviating from the recorded version, the band exploded with a cacophony of sonic energy at various points in the song. He was howling his vocals as the tune approached its climax, with Mehlman tattooing a tribal beat on his drums.
By now, Thomas had settled into his own groove, becoming quite animated with his facial expressions and gestures on Funk 49, a solid rocker in the classic Pere Ubu style.
The slow and eerie-sounding Howl was next, with Thomas digging deep to howl “Ahooooo…” to the crowd. The guitar work from Siperko sounded like footsteps trudging through a dark forest in the middle of the night.
With other bands playing above The Basement at the A&R Bar, their sound unfortunately bled into the venue, taking away from the ambiance and vibe that Pere Ubu were laying on the crowd. This prompted Thomas to opine, “Who’s playing upstairs? Let’s listen for a minute,” eliciting laughter from the audience in front of him.
The midtempo rocker Prison Of The Senses was next, with everyone in the room hanging on every word coming from Thomas. He seemed to sing with a slightly lower growl, almost daring the band upstairs to intrude on his show again.
Temple and Mehlman announced Bus Station with a midtempo bass-and-drum groove that had heads bobbing and toes tapping. Throughout every song, the crowd was so focused on the band that it was eerily quiet, save for the music itself (which was quite good).
Seemingly upset at the lack of response from the crowd, Thomas exclaimed questioningly “Why so quiet in here?”
Folding his arms across his chest, he looked squarely at the crowd and said, “This is the part of the song where I communicate with the audience. And you stand there, in the dark, like some primordial slime molds.” He paused before adding, “Nothing personal,” with the band picking up right where they left off to finish out the song.
This was the point at which the set seemed to turn almost melancholy, with the slower, dirge-like Road To Utah matching the mood of the room. Thomas was positively wailing his vocals, as Siperko and Hahn coaxed an edgy sound from their guitars.
The spell was broken, as Thomas told the tale of the album title about a guy stationed in a missile silo, knowing he can end it all with the push of a button. The faster pace of Red Eye Blues was just what was needed to get the crowd back into the groove of the night.
They kept the tempo up with Worlds In Collision, With Wheeler’s theramin and Siperko’s guitar in almost perfect synchronization, with each darting in-an-out almost chaotically, but with aural purposefulness.
The vibe went slightly off the rails, once again, as Mehlman complained loudly about the godawful sound in his monitor. After the drummer concluded his rant, Thomas glanced at the audience with a Cheshire cat grin and said, “I think we’re ready to proceed without any more bad vibes.”
Up next, the band turned We Have The Technology into a melodic, midtempo romp that lightened the mood within the room, once again. This was followed by the much slower, yet still quite melodic Cold Sweat. Hahn worked his steel guitar like magic, coaxing sad-sounding notes that conjured images of tears falling, meshing very well with Thomas’ vocals.
The fast-paced rocker Love Love Love washed of crowd next, with Thomas and temple once again harmonizing well. Despite the promising nature of the tune, it appeared that Mehlman did not receive the memo about being aware of Thomas’ cues. This seemed to sour Thomas yet again, as he abruptly said, “good night” at its conclusion.
Thomas took a minute to cool-off, before the band launched into an encore of Final Solution. In a fitting end to the night, they played it with a slower, deeper and darker groove than the original, although it still had all the hallmarks of the classic Pere Ubu rocker.
This was not one of their best shows, but did hit various highpoints from throughout the band’s existence. I’m sure that Thomas was more disappointed in not giving the fans a good, solid rock show, as that is what he strives for every time he steps on the stage.
Judging by the fans I talked to after it was over, they were quite content with the one-hour set, with no complaints. All seemed happy and satiated by the performance they had just witnessed.
I, for one, know they can be better, chalking this evening up to having a semi-off night where it didn’t quite flow perfectly, despite the best of intentions.
- Slow Walking Daddy
- Goodnite Irene
- Monkey Bizness
- Funk 49
- Prison Of The Senses
- Bus Station
- Road To Utah
- Red Eye Blues
- Worlds In Collision
- We Have The Technology
- Cold Sweat
- Love Love Love (I Can’t Believe It)
- ENCORE – Final Solution
Pere Ubu – Monkey Bizness