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David Thomas' DISASTODROME: The Poet Reports
From Backstage, On Stage, Front Row Center

Dateline: 4/28/98

David Thomas, leader of the Thinking Man’s Punk Band Pere Ubu, in barbecue apron flipping Cajun burgers outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London's South Bank Centre -- except he's not. He's overseeing the flipping because, what with rehearsals and all, he didn't have time to take the obligatory foodhandling course mandated by British law to enable him to flip them burgers hisself. Those who did pass the course now mold and dust and grill and flip those burgers whilst the masses queue up for the first thing to go wrong at Maestro Thomas's 4-day DISASTODROME (“we call it DISASTODROME so nothing can go wrong”).

(And it didn't.)

As the Poet, aka “Greek Chorus” and “The Smart Aleck in the Back of the Room,” I had the perfect Olympian vantage point for this Masterpiece of Spontaneous Creation -- the artists, the audience, the air itself, all were “refined in the fire of the moment.” This is our slogan, perpetrated by this century’s Ubu, the aforenamed Thomas, David of Cleveland, OH (now Hove, outside Brighton, UK).

We call it
so nothing
can go
wrong. . .

Immediately upon entering the Queen Elizabeth Hall (part of the South Bank Centre, which, for benefit of my fellow Murricans, is to London as Lincoln Center is to New York), you are confronted with chaos designed by Johnny Dromette, psyche-pummeled by
a freestyle construction zone of gargantuan proportions. Is this art -- or renovation? Part of the performance or standing, milling about? Barricades and cones, Simon Lucas's poetry CD-ROMs going full blast, Ken Hyner and Tim Hodgkinson doing Johnnie Cage on a makeshift stage, David and Lynne's Morris Minor poised for a quick getaway, a working bar and sandwicheria, T-shirts for sale (thank you Rhodri and Erica), the tux crowd going to see Bach’s “St. Matthew's Passion” at a separate theater in the space, phone call for you, huh?, the Poet whispering so-called verse in your so-called ear one minute then spewing boiling lyrics through a bullhorn at the masses the next -- where are you? The DISASTODROME Lobby, of course.

Night One is “Caligari’s Diner,” four bands so varied you wonder if they are all humans; answer, yes and. El Ubu intros from under a jaunty black borsolino: Daved Hild, his long-time collaborator, who does a painfully brilliant rock-noise set from behind a ventriloquist's dummy;

in the
of the
moment. . .

Peter Blagvad, who rocks with style and smarts, fronting a trio of super bass John Greaves and Chris Cutler riding drums like a bronco. During intermission we got to see the Cleveland Culture hero, Ghoulardi, in a rare kinescope, while the Poet performs “Impossible Rap” in the audience, including dancing with the septuagenarian ushers, who retire immediately thereafter. Jackie Leven, the Scots bluesman, did a solo set, miking his long-stockinged foot stomps, and bringing the audience to its knees and tears with his sweet husk flow of a voice (“Poor Town” in particular) and hilarious stories. Which is all but a prelude for the last act: the legendary Kidney Brothers from Cleveland. Jack and Robert are quintessential white trash blues rockers, powerfully, subtlely smashing the air with silence and then tossing back guitar swoops like only blood brothers can. As The Numbers Band, they have a super rep in the Midwest but oolala! on the power stage of Europe you hear these guys for what they are -- the Condensers. Blues Haikus. Jack’s sax and drums and guitar pushed the music into the nerve’s ear, where Mr. Bob K, who clearly has signed off to whoever that was at the Crossroads, brings it all home to the heart of rock’n’roll.

a sense
testifying. . .

Night two is “Mirror Man,” a musical extravaganza for the whole DISASTODROME commune. We’d gathered for two grueling days of rehearsal, getting to know each other via art, coffee, and the glottal stops of Devil Boy. Five musicians, five singers featuring the return of the World’s Most
Beautiful Voice, Ms. Linda Thompson, in her first performance in twelve years. David was in such a sensational state that his socks didn’t work, hopping like a cow across the stage, true manic genius with an orchestra to rival Sun Ra’s. Chris Cutler rattled table chains of consciousness, Peter Hamill soared keyboards to heaven, Jack Kidney looped his sax through Andy Diagram’s trumpet bell, Keith Moline was up to his neck in the ocean of sound, Gorvy’s lights were eternal dawns. . . There was a sense of testifying as David T, squeezebox dangling over his red butcher apron, led each of the singers to the microphone where they stood and delivered as the amaze band poured forth musical spheres, plates, bowls and barrels.

The songs were primarily from the last CD of The Best Album of 1997, David Thomas’s five-CD Monster (Cooking Vinyl, distributed in the US by Tim Kerr). Recorded as the Two Pale Boys (Diagram on prepared trumpet and Moline on guitar/samples are the

The land. . .
stories. . .

instrumentalists) on a cross-Europe trip, the material evokes Thomas’s philosophizing of the heart -- mad rational. The land, Thomas spits’n’croons, contains the stories. People are horrible, or sweet, living the stories the land tells. Geography is not destiny, but it is a rolling narrative. Thomas himself likes to get in his Morris Minor with wife Lynne and drive. Nowhere in particular, somewhere else, Memphis during an Elvis Death Week Convention. Drive.

The one
the woman
who marries
an Indian
giver. . .

And what great stories, or, poems, he tells. They curve and encompass like Andy Diagram’s trumpet’s multi-choir echoes -- the one about the man whose greatest fear is that his wife will leave him, and he’s right. The one about the woman who marries an Indian giver. Sitting in a diner all day and playing the few songs on the
jukebox which are tolerable over and over while listening for the call of the road. A vision to build a gas station and the Interstate will come, and you do, and it does, but off by one mountain, sitting on the porch of your garage, seeing the headlights pour across the ridge, the land bathed in the moonlight ramble of Keith Moline’s guitar wind.

A duet of David emptying soul basket and Linda soaring pure spirit on “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” reinvents classic Beauty and Beast. Jackie Leven soulsearing and even dropping in a poem by Richard Wright, “A Clearing,” to start the second act. Linda Thompson pushes fifteen years' silence out the window.

. . . pushes
15 years'
the window

Daved Hild bemoaning the loss of Lands and advent of Worlds in Florida’s amusement park industry. Jane Bon-Bane trills like sheets of lilac paper. And growling Bob Kidney puts the match to it.

And the poet he, I, in a pool of radio light and a laptop, The Voice of Doom, the Greek Chorus, writing and commenting and laying in the fill. Lots of Space, Lots of Words/Lots of Space filled up with lots of Words/Even Space between Words filled with other Words/In other Words as under the wave the speed bump decays. . .

A wizard,
rocket. . .

David throughout whining and screaming, caroming off the invisible walls that separate us, heart from heart, panicking the air, taking the side floor lights off from whirling and refocusing them to spot the rear curtain. . . A wizard, king, poet,
rocker, rocket. At show’s end the audience ovated like a mother, and David came back with “Earth Man” and “Surfer Girl.” Andy Diagram swam like an angel, then flew like a mermaid (world’s tenderest gender bender), sampling audience’s lips through the ear of his bell. . . finally, The Poet hauled him back up on the great ship stage, so we could all go backstage to home. . .

--Bob Holman

The conclusion of DISASTODROME next week. . .

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