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Pere Ubu - One Man Drives While The Other Man Screams

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Artist: Pere Ubu

Album: One Man Drives While The Other Man Screams

Label: Hearpen

Review date: Sep. 23, 2004

This live album comes from Pere Ubu's second stage, when the band dropped the rock trappings of their earliest material and the adjectives "obtuse" and "obscure" really began to apply. Usually, the shift is pinned on guitarist Tom Herman leaving the group. But he plays on the first five tracks. When Mayo Thompson takes over for the rest of the record, there isn't a noticeable change. So even though the songs here are drawn from 1978-1981, the experimental side of the band remains the defining characteristic. Whooshing, skidding synthesizer noise laps in the background, and coupled with the thin live sound, the songs have a consistent oppressiveness which separates them from the studio versions.

Ironically, Ubu capped this period with six years of silence, then re-emerged as a jangly college rock band in 1989 - the same year they originally issued this album. They've since put out music that's even more dry, frightening and violent than those early years, so this record documents merely the first of many Ubu mood swings between pop and noise.

One Man Drives While The Other Man Screams also sheds some light on some of the larger trends that may have fueled the bands development. There was another intentionally weird band that was bouncing between the pop and the avant-garde at the time: Talking Heads. Both band were trying very hard to sound like no one else, and ended up employing similar techniques. These were the years David Byrne was working with Brian Eno, exploring polyrhythms and dense beats. The same frightened danceability runs through these Ubu gigs. The move away from straight 4/4 time, the hiccuped vocals and shower of non-sequiturs are a reminder of how similar the bands were for a while.

It's hard to picture the Ubu audience getting down, though. They weren't the sort of band to reach out and share the joy with spectators. More often than not, Ubu tried to freak 'em out. "Rhapsody in Pink" pushes the crowd the hardest. Dave Thomas narrates a story of shipwreck over a bare guitar which sways like a boat about to capsize. It's easy to picture the big man about to fall into the crowd, and the song doesn't end so much as sink to the bottom. After a hesitant silence, there's some hooping and hollering, and the clapping is nervous and sporadic. Mission accomplished. Nervous and sporadic is what this version of Pere Ubu was all about.

By Ben Donnelly

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