Gerry Hectic

15:34 15th November 2004

Not many ex-punk bands, if indeed Pere Ubu were really ever punk, could successfully perform a live soundtrack to a 1953 sci-fi film classic, ‘It Came From Outer Space’. Avant-garde punk would be a closer description, but certainly cult applies as they have been doing their thing for nearly 30 years.  The surrealness was aided by the fact that the film was the only surviving stereoscopic print -  thus paper 3D spex were compulsory for the audience.

The story goes that a spaceship lands in a town in mid western America witnessed by a single man, shortly after a landslide covers it. The local press and the Sheriff don’t believe the main character John Putnam’s story of a space ship landing. Only after a couple of telephone linesmen disappear only to return as zombie type characters does the Sheriff think something is amiss.  More people disappear and Putman does a deal with one of the alien ‘linesman’ to leave them alone whilst they repair their vehicle as they’ve landed on earth by accident.  However, the Sheriff is scared and gets a posse together to hunt down the aliens to a mine.  Thankfully Putnam gets there before them, does a deal with chief alien, all the humans are saved and Putman blows up the mine entrance which gives the aliens enough time to repair the space ship to escape from earth.  Thus leaving the question, “Will they come back”?
 
The soundtrack is generally very sensitive to the film and a mix of 50’s surf Dick Dale guitar, Pink Floydiness, jazz improvisations and Pere Ubu’s own instrumental back catalogue.  It’s definitely their music. A times you think they are going to burst into ‘30 Seconds Over Tokyo’, ‘Non-Alignment Pack’ or ‘George Had A Hat’.  There also hints of ‘Twin Peaks’ soundtrack.  It works well even though David’s only vocal contributions are reading short extracts of Bradbury’s more poetic script that was cut from the film and at the end of the film as the credits roll.
 
The idea was first staged at the Royal Festival Hall two years ago and now revived as a seven venue tour of the UK (5th – 13th Nov).  In the US they have also done Roger Corman's early 1960’s film ‘X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes’ that stared Ray Milland.  On Monday’s Front Row review (Radio 4), Thomas and Dr. Das of Asian Dub Foundation (HomeBeats: Struggles for Racial Justice CDROM) talked about how they approach the discipline of the live soundtrack. The only other band I can think of that has done this is the Cinematic Orchestra (‘A Man With A Movie Camera’) and no doubt others will want to give it a go. 
You may not think this is exactly a ‘gig’ (e.g. no T-shirts were on sale in the foyer), David Thomas told a fan emphatically that it was a Pere Ubu gig. Needless to say, there was no argument on the subject as DT is such a commanding figure in more ways than one.  It was a great night out and far superior to going to the local multi-plex.  There should be more of this type of stuff.