PERE UBU with the MERCURY MEN at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (September 22). $13.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
the images of highway signs on the sleeve of Pere Ubu's latest disc, St. Arkansas (SpinArt/Linus), along with lyrical allusions to cars and travelling, could lead people to think it's a concept album about the road. In which case, the distorting vocal treatments used by mainman David Thomas to make his voice sound it's coming out of an old car radio seem to make perfect sense. But Pere Ubu have never been particularly interested in being logical
Thomas -- whose mother threw him out of the house for refusing to wear pants that fit properly -- has invested far too much time and energy cultivating the obtuse persona of the group's unfathomable frontman to settle for the simple, straightforward approach at this stage in his career.
Something as mundane as a road album wouldn't be good for the whole arty mystique.
"It's not meant to be a "road record,'" sighs Thomas from his folks' place in Pennsylvania, clearly disgusted by the suggestion.
"If the sound of my voice on the recording has AM radio quality, it's probably because I don't use microphones any more -- I only use speakers to record vocals.
"One of my favourites, which I call the fly's eye, came from a transistor radio, and a bit of that is on every track. So you see, things probably sound the way they do for a reason."
And despite the car references, that reason has nothing to do with the road, he says. Perhaps it would be best to just let the creative genius behind St. Arkansas explain what's really going on.
"Anyone familiar with Pere Ubu knows that our work always reflects my theories about sound, geography and culture -- how they interact and define each other.
"For this record, I decided I would drive until I entered a certain mental state of being and then write the record.
"So last year I drove for many, many days until I reached the right state of mind, which happened to be in Conway, Arkansas. At that point I started writing and driving, and kept at it until I got to Tupelo, Mississippi. It was really the road that wrote this record."
OK, so there is an underlying subtext concerning the road that connects the songs thematically. Thomas is enjoying the surreal nature of the Abbott-and-Costello-like exchange too much to concede the point.
"Well," snorts Thomas, "a "road record' is something that makes people think -- (singing) "I'm on the road again' -- y'know, stories of cheap motels and excess drinking. This is just a series of stories informed by geography. It's stuff we've been working on for a very long time.
"I've been delivering a lecture at various colleges around the world, called The Geography Of Sound In The Magnetic Age, so it's all tied together in a vast and complicated way.
"I could offer a hideously long-winded explanation, but I'm sure most people would find it very boring."
Much more exciting is Thomas's recent release of The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs (Smog Veil) disc, presenting stunning live recordings of the notorious Cleveland proto-punk group involving Gene "Cheetah Chrome" O'Connor, Peter Laughner and Thomas, aka Crocus Behemoth.
The surprisingly coherent and well-recorded rehearsal sessions from 75 -- featuring blazing early takes of Final Solution, Sonic Reducer and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo -- document the explosive origins of Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys.
"I really don't like nostalgia, but I just got tired of all the bootlegs. They weren't very good and I didn't like the idea that bootleggers were doing it. So I figured I should put something out myself. It just took three or four years to find the original tapes.
"It's not like we ever meant to record anything. What you hear is all incidental stuff recorded a couple of months after we formed. We got better later on, but the whole thing was over in about eight months.
"Rocket from the Tombs was a great band, and the people involved were good people. It was just one of those groups you knew were doomed from the beginning."email@example.com