Opening for the legendary post-punk experimentalists Pere Ubu tonight is the new project of a musician of semi-legendary proportions in his own right. Founding Mercury Rev member David Baker’s new synth/psych band Variety Lights is certainly cause for anticipation, so I’m surprised how utterly tedious their set is, despite Baker’s jittery over-enunciation. I don’t realise he was from Mercury Rev until the set’s end – and considering the guy must have had more drugs than I’ve had hot dinners, it’s remarkably unimaginative stuff, content to wallow in psychy slush rather than push any boundaries.
Tonight’s gig fell on the same day as Record Store Day. I didn’t fancy the queues, but those who squeezed into the Music Exchange for Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas’ spoken word set earlier in the day must have had a real treat. The magic of Ubu’s set is really in Thomas’ fascinating persona – the self-described “59-year-old idiot with food down his shirt” offers some hilariously self-deprecating insights. He reads his lyrics out from a music stand and intermittently sits and sips red wine, and offers tangential stories about the ups and downs of underground music since the 70s.
Ubu lean a little too heavily on their lacklustre new record Lady from Shanghai, (although highlight 414 Seconds lives wonderfully up to its leering creepiness), yet Thomas seems happy to delve across his extensive back catalogue. Their current 6-member iteration brings a few surprises too – one synth player blasts some energetic theremin solos and fires a toy ray gun into the crowd, and in a moment of characteristic self-effacement, Thomas declares he’ll perform The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed using autotune, warbling the song through a modified corded telephone.
Pere Ubu may not, as at one point Thomas suggests, have 17 Wembley stadium shows lined up straight after this one, but the gig still has the warm, candid feel of a “return to roots” that he ironically promises – even if their material and performance doesn’t take as many risks as I’d expect from such an important band.
Get clued up on the Ubu Project here
By Stephen Wragg.