Pere Ubu is the main character in Alfred Jarry's Ubu plays.

Existentialism was probably not Jarry's cup of tea either. Jarry's philosophy was all his own: see 'pataphysics.

A few years ago I knew somebody who'd grown up in Cleveland and happened to see Pere Ubu play in a bar very early on. He told me that one of the Ubists had a hammer and a sickle, and would beat the two together, sort of like a percussion instrument. Quoth (approximately) my informant: "You have no idea how weird that was in Cleveland in the seventies".

Pere Ubu is one of the most creative bands to be spawned from the toxic sludge of post-industrial Ohio in the mid 70s. This was the same area that gave birth to Devo, The Dead Boys, Rubber City Rebels, Chi-Pig, 15-60-75 (AKA The Numbers Band) and so many more bands that never made it. Never before, and never since has there been such a concentrated musical revolution than in the area around Cleveland and Akron in the mid 1970s.

The story of Pere Ubu starts with a band called Rocket From The Tombs, a sort of punk cum art-rock band, lead by Crocus Behemoth nee David Thomas and Cheetah Chrome. Rocket From The Tombs lasted for about a year, and self-destructed when Peter Laughner joined the band. Thomas and Laughner's artistic sensibilities clashed with Cheetah Chrome's punk mindset. Following Rocket From The Tombs breakup, Cheetah Chrome and Stiv Bators formed the Dead Boys. Thomas and Laughner formed Pere Ubu.

Pere Ubu had its own philosophy, which was simplified into a short bulleted list:

These rules have been followed by Pere Ubu to the letter, except when they aren't. Pere Ubu reserves the right to be totally arbitrary. Pere Ubu's lineup often shifts, sometimes slightly, occasionally drastically, but it always remains focused around David Thomas. It is David Thomas' band, and he alone decides how it works. There is no democracy. Silence is the same as agreement.

Of course, none of this explains what Pere Ubu sounds like. Like the lineup, Pere Ubu's sound is constantly shifting. The only thing that is constant is David Thomas and his nasal sort of off-key whine. Except when he doesn't use it, like on most of 1998's Pennsylvania album. The Modern Dance album sounds little like Songs of the Bailing Man. Dub Housing sounds little like Pennsylvania. The Tenement Year sounds little like St. Arkansas. All of it sounds like nothing you've heard before.

If you want to get into Pere Ubu, where should you start? Perhaps at the beginning. Terminal Tower, a CD collection of Pere Ubu's early singles, including the entire Datapanik In The Year Zero EP, is a good place, as is their first LP, The Modern Dance. Those who are more daring can pick up Dub Housing, or New Picnic Time. Those who are less daring can try and track down The Tenement Year or Cloudland, which are two of Pere Ubu's most accessable albums. However, these two discs, and all of Pere Ubu's output on Fontana Records are out of print, and not likely to be re-released any time soon. However, their historical albums have recently been remastered and are available.

Pere Ubu Discography:
Historical Era albums (1975-1982):


Fontana Era albums (1988-1993)

Post-Fontana Era albums (1995-Now)

Sources:
http://www.ubuprojex.net - The official Pere Ubu website.
http://users.rcn.com/obo/ubu/ubu_story.html - The Pere Ubu Story (slightly outdated)
http://www.allmusic.com

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