Back in the mid-1970s, Cleveland was the red-headed stepkid of the burgeoning punk rock family, with a uniquely dramatic take on the form, one weirder and noisier than even the relatively hipper aforementioned burgs. It could, in fact, be argued that art-punk--an oft-maligned and not easily defined subgenre--was born in that section of the industrial Midwest called Ohio, with its epicenter in Cleveland. Most of the Ohio bands' sheer oddball-ness ensured they would never appeal to the masses, and as such, most never quite got their due while they were still in existence.
This was the true underground. An occasional band, like Akron's Devo, was able to court mainstream success, but most, like Cleveland's Electric Eels, wallowed in obscurity. But because most of these bands were literally doing things musically that had never been done, they were eventually discovered and studied by legions of adventurous fans, who often then went on to start bands of their own.
One of these bands is Pere Ubu, which began life as Rocket From the Tombs, after that group split up. (Crocus Behemoth, nee David Thomas--no, not the Wendy's founder, though he was a fellow Ohioan--and Peter Laughner formed Pere Ubu, while the other members went on to form the Dead Boys.) Within a year, Laughner, fond of chemical exesses, was dead of liver failure, at age 25, and Thomas was left on his own to front Pere Ubu.
The band made its mark early, releasing three classic albums, Dub Housing, The Modern Dance and New Picnic Time, and an EP, Datapanik in the Year Zero, in the space of only two years, 1978 and 1979. The albums took the practiced-but-haphazard-sounding avant garde qualities of Captain Beefheart surrealism, and laced it with a punk edge, utilizing found sounds and bizarre noises to drive the point home. And then there's the matter of Thomas' high-pitched singing voice, which could not inaccurately be described, even by fans, as a human bleat--it's certainly an acquired taste. But those who could get past it, and were open to such risky sounds, found a bounty of musical adventure that would influence generations to come.
Ubu is still around, still touring and releasing albums, the latest of which is 2002's St Arkansas (SpinArt), a collection of songs detailing tales inspired by road trips on the lost highways of the American South. It's as dark and almost as bizarre as anything the band's ever released, even if these qualities aren't as jarring as they once were, and even though now Thomas often sounds like a human being when he sings. Still, its easy to forget that Pere Ubu pretty much invented this stuff, and that without them, half of the world's underground rock bands would sound a little bit different.
Pere Ubu performs on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Opening at 9 p.m. are Amor and Sugarbush and admission is $10. For more information call 622-8848.
BLOODY GOOD: And speaking of bands influenced by Pere Ubu, if you're planning on attending the stupendous triple bill of literate rockers Rainer Maria, love rockers Mates of State (see feature article this section) and angular-guitar rockers Milemarker, be sure to get there early to see the Blood Brothers. The band is currently garnering heaps of praise for its own brand of arty weirdness, which can only be described as "spazz-rock," appropriating the arrangements of '70s prog rock, as played by a pack of bloodthirsty punks who trade in pure noise, and whose two throat-shredding vocalists will scare the living shit outta you. And get this: It's actually really fun stuff. Reportedly, the live show is where they let it all hang out. Scary.
The Blood Brothers open for Rainer Maria, Mates of State, and Milemarker at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 24, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission for the all-ages show is $10. For further details call 884-0874.
CAPTAIN MORGAN: One thing Tucson's not short on is inspired, roots-rock singer/songwriters, and one of the foremost is Teddy Morgan, whose songs sound so completely effortless he'd be the perfect candidate to teach a class called Songwriting 101, should one ever be offered. Fresh from steering Cathy Rivers through the recording of her impressive debut CD, Bleached (Horsethief), this week Morgan drops his own new disc, Freight (self-released), and celebrates with a CD release party.
Freight is a successful continuation of the formula Morgan used for his last studio release, 2001's Crashing Down--a handful of ballads, another handful of rockers, and somehow still room left for a tasty Dylan cover. (This time it's a duet with Cracker's Johnny Hickman on a rocked-out but still gorgeous "She Belongs to Me.") Highlights among the rockers include the Troy Olsen-written "Train," a juiced-up slice of swamp rock, and the raw-as-sushi garage stomper "Round Every Bend," written and performed with former Uncle Tupelo and Wilco drummer Ken Coomer. As for the ballads, "Middle of the Night," co-written with Rivers, is an unfinished-business lament masquerading as a lullaby, while the guitar motif of the Peter Case-inspired "Miles" couldn't suit the song better; it truly embodies the sound of long-distance longing. Tacked onto the end of the disc is a pair of bonus tracks, one recorded live from a show in Holland, and the other, "Along the Way," recorded live at Solar Culture, in 2001, with Calexico serving as backup band.
Teddy Morgan's CD release party kicks off at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Kelly Pardekooper opens the show, and Cathy Rivers will join Teddy during his set. Call 798-1298 with questions.
FEAST ON THIS: And speaking of Calexico (how convenient), the duo-plus released its long-awaited fourth full-length for Quarterstick/Touch and Go this week. Feast of Wire is the band's first album in three years (though, to be fair, there was no shortage of stopgap releases), and raises a critical question: How do these guys keep coming up with such fresh approaches to a sound so individual that you would have figured it would have gotten stale by now? Somehow, they do, and somehow, it hasn't.
This time around, things are varied even more than usual. "Humble" is straight-up pure jazz, and spotlights fantastic trumpet work from Calexico/Mariachi Luz de Luna regular Jacob Valenzuela, as well as some tastefully smokin' guitar from contributor Nick Luca. And if you thought "Stray" or "Crystal Frontier" were epics, wait 'til you hear the string section sawing away on the grandiose "Black Heart." Like much of the album, it's hugely ambitious, and pulled off with aplomb. Not that Calexico needs any endorsement from me--they're easily the most internationally beloved of all Tucson bands--and not to get too sappy, but listening to Feast of Wire really makes me proud of what Joey Burns and John Convertino have accomplished here, and proud, also, that they call Tucson home.
Calexico kicks off a lengthy tour in support of Feast of Wire with an appearance at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission is $10 and all ages are welcome. Questions? Call 884-0874.
YOU CAN GET WITH THIS, OR YOU CAN GET WITH THAT: Finally, if you were shut out of last fall's sold-out Interpol show at Solar Culture, this week you get another chance. It's hard to think of another band so hugely hyped that is so divisive among the music cognoscenti. (Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about the Strokes). Example: a recent article in the Seattle Weekly described Interpol's music as "Post-Post-Post Sixteen Candles" and "When the Psychedelic Furs started to suck" and "Eddie Bauer meets the Mighty Lemon Drops." Finally, the band elicited the comment, "I guess this is probably the coolest thing you can listen to the morning after someone breaks up with you and you're driving to IKEA to buy yourself a new disposable lifestyle." Meanwhile, the well-informed, snarky but hilarious folks over at www.pitchforkmedia.com (our fave music site, in case you're asking) named the band's debut album, Can See the Bright Lights (2002, Matador) the best album of last year. Truly, there is no accounting for taste.
Make up your own damn mind when Interpol performs at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, Feb. 21. The Warlocks open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10. For more info, that number again is 622-8848.