Saw Pere Ubu last night, and I'm listening to the new CD, "Pennsylvania", which I bought at the show. It's good, but I need to concentrate on it more--I'm doing too much to delve into the sonic multi-layeredness of Ubu. The show was good even though David Thomas appeared to be suffering from a throat ailment (I'd heard he was sick, and at one point he referred to the room as being too cold for his throat).
What's interesting in listening to the CD after hearing the live versions is that I really notice the difference between the two guitarists in the studio (Jim Jones and Tom Herman) and just Tom Herman live. I love Tom Herman's playing--it's always surprising, sometimes sad, and occasionally shocking, in some wildly divergent choice he's made, that somehow seems exactly right. I find myself wanting more space around Tom's playing on the CD (a continuation of the two-guitarists-or-one debate) although I can see myself liking the denser interplay on the CD. His tone, too, is spooky and spacious, tending toward a clean sound of steel strings through a Fender amp. His slide work is riveting, too, and slightly cold (and I mean that as a compliment), a result of his using the slide on a concert-tuned (or standard tuned) guitar. He's not to be missed, either with Ubu ("Pennsylvania", or the first three records), Tripod Jimmy (early '80s; his slide work and compositions are pretty amazing), or, I'd imagine, with his new project, "I Am Your Conscience", which I haven't yet heard.
Robert Wheeler's EML synth and theremin playing are also vastly pleasing. The theremin is probably the most theatrical of instruments. While body language is important to playing many instruments (guitar playing, for example, often seems more fluid and natural when one "uses" one's whole body to play) there's a sense in which it really doesn't do anything. In playing the theremin, every twitch, shake, and grimace has an effect on the sound.
Michelle Temple and Steve Melman are a fine rhythm section in Ubu, as they've been in the Vivians, although somehow they seem more dynamic here. Maybe it's the available space and fluidity of the music. OTOH, seeing them with R. Scott Krause and Chris Cutler on drums, that was fluid, stretching time. With Temple and Melman, the rhythm section really drives, and has its own melancholy expansion of space and concentration of power.
David Thomas's voice is unlike anyone else's in rock. You might find a distant neighbor in jazz or maybe '50s pop. I'm not sure why I say this; it's just what comes to mind. (Maybe it's a result of his singing the Jimmy Durante "good night" song to those in the audience who persisted in trying to applaud the band into an encore after the house lights were up, CDs & T-shirts were out for sale, and half the drum kit was broken down for removal.) It ranges from a primal whine to a subdued, slightly crackly croon, and watching the man perform is to watch someone juggling and wrestling with the big concepts. (And the last two times they played the Pittsburgh club Graffiti, one could watch him wrestle a bad monitor mix.)