Friday Night: Pere Ubu's David Thomas and the Wounded Stag Get Arty at the Shop in Oakland

Romana Machado
Wounded Stag with dancer Erica Blue
David Thomas
Wounded Stag
April 15, 2011
@ The Shop

Better than: If not nature, Metamucil.

Likely the next fine and arty place to hang, the Shop is retooled warehouse space wedged behind a stretch of brown metal fence along a quiet residential street in West Oakland. Once down the block past the craned necks of blinking passersby and inside the enclosure, we took our place among the thirty-odd invitees squatting before the platform stage. The star was chuffing cigarettes outside next to a giant iron sculpture of a bull. The rest of the house ranged from the young and wised-up to the elders of the punk rock tribe grown happy and cynical. Billed as a living-room concert, this was more a loading-dock party of kind the underground has been throwing since warehouse space became irrelevant in our postreality economy.

Romana Machado
Wounded Stag
The company was fine and the wait was short for the opening act. Fifty percent glowering performance artist Dan Carbone and fifty percent indie-rock surrealist Andrew Goldfarb (aka the Slow Poisoner), the Wounded Stag is a riotously funny two-headed sideshow assault. The masked Poisoner crooned, strummed a guitar, and kicked a bass drum in time to his bulky partner's astounding ululations on subjects including demons, feather-covered robots, Amazon women, and stars filled with dread. While a disciple of the headliner's warbling incantatory style, Carbone adds a sense of brute presence usually associated with movie heavies and monsters like Mike Mazurki or Lon Chaney Jr. Fiddling with masks while whimpering and cajoling in a range of voices that would astound any champion hog-caller in Dixie, Carbone raised an unholy row shouting out advertising slogans and aping Der Bingle while dancer Erica Blue stalked around wearing a doe-eyed doll mask on the back on her head. She banged on a toy piano, and the three of them made a fetching tableau for the fadeout. The girl next to me shouted, "That was too short!" as the act ended in loud applause.

Romana Machado
Dave Thomas, Ralph Carney

David Thomas is revered in the underground as founder of Cleveland avant-garage incendiaries Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. Rarely anybody's Little Miss Sunshine, he has long traded on an irascibility age has only massaged and given purpose. Squinting and growling about starting three minutes early, he clambered to the stage caressing an ancient accordion while Tin Huey's Ralph Carney sat in on clarinet. Right away, Thomas started abusing Carney, but the veteran sideman bore it puckishly enough, egging him on like jolly Mister Bones more than once.

"All you human beings look a lot alike to me!" Thomas chortled before squatting to yip and growl tales of distant woe from a notebook open before him. His voice, a thing of open wonder back in Pere Ubu's brief heyday, has mellowed into an astounding instrument that wrings intense amounts of feeling with each long, keening syllable. While singing, he moaned unceasingly of ghosts and bitched between songs about the decline of his flesh, lashing out variously at women, kids, Germans, and Japanese with all the confiding creepy bigotry of the guy up the street with a collection of human heads in his fridge. This cankered Burl Ives paused from his Prufrockian reveries to light one ciggie after another and take the occasional glug from a bottle of brandy.

Romana Machado
Dave Thomas, Ralph Carney

At one point, he paused midrant to touchingly sing Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling In Love with You," predictably bitching himself out for improving upon the lyrics. He announced he'd come to the end of his contracted hour and asked Carney whether he thought we deserved an encore. He dismissed the vociferous plea on our own behalf -- "I spit on your enthusiasm! I've been trying to explain for decades now the audience is a total irrelevancy!" He seemed pleased enough when we reminded him otherwise.

Random notebook dump: "Fuck Coachella!"

Overheard: Thomas: "You'll see my genius after I'm dead!"

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Steven Patterson
Steven Patterson

YEAHHH!! May this be the start of some long overdue recognition for our buddy Dan.

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