Pere Ubu in Chicago

Marcia and I caught the mighty Pere Ubu at Beat Kitchen in Chicago last night. They’ve been among my favorite bands since the ’70s, plying those sweet spots where experimental noisemaking, monster riffery and ace storytelling collide. Their front-man/mastermind David Thomas is a truly one-of-a-kind performer, and one of the very finest thinkers and writers about what it really means to rock. (Just forage around the Ubu Projex Protocols for a taste of his aggregated wisdom).

I interviewed Mr Thomas and late guitarist Jim Jones way back in 1996 when they’d issued an essential career retrospective box called Datapanik in the Year Zero, and then caught them live in New York City (with Wilson) on the subsequent tour.  The band had gone through one of its periodic personnel reconfigurations at the point, so drummer Steve Mehlman, bassist Michele Temple and synthesist Robert Wheeler were the new members at that show. They’re all still onstage with Mr Thomas to this day, and they are a mighty tight force all these years on. The guitar position has bifurcated for this tour, with Gary Siperko on the electric six-string, and ex-Swans man Kristoff Hahn on pedal steel. It’s an interesting new sound for the band. (On their most excellent recent studio album, 20 Years In a Montana Missile Silo, the sextet actually becomes a nine-piece, with long-time guitarist Keith Moline, digital synthesist Gagarin, and clarinet man Darryl Boon).

Pere Ubu remain defiantly and delightfully anti-glamorous. Mr Thomas was out front having a smoke when we got to the club, while Wheeler and Mehlman were working the merch table. Peter Prescott (Mission of Burma) opened the show with his three piece band Minibeast, offering sort of a Can vibe of rock-steady drum and bass grooves topped with shouting, guitars, loops and samples. Loud and engaging. Beat Kitchen was a funky little bar/restaurant/club in the Roscoe Village neighborhood. We hadn’t been there before, and we liked it a lot as an intimate club space with good sound and sight lines. (Roscoe Village is actually one of the neighborhoods we’re considering for a move next summer, so nice to know there’s a good little neighborhood joint there).

The Ubu show was as tight and noisy (yeah, you can do those things at the same time, when you’re this good) as I would have hoped and expected. Mr Thomas remained seated throughout, noting that the original James Brown had to dance around, while the new James Brown (he would be Thomas) gets to sit down down. He and every one else on stage played it old school with scraps of paper and notes and music stands littering the stage, rather than the annoying iPads that seem to be propagating as musical props in our always on-screen era. Mr Thomas had a bottle of wine with him as well, using his teeth to pop the cork, drinking straight from the bottle like a pirate, commenting at one point that it was actually a pretty good wine, which people don’t normally give him. Good for whoever did so.

Mr Thomas was in very good voice throughout, and the band played an interesting, career spanning set, ranging from the seminal “Heart of Darkness” through to the pummeling “Monkey Bizness” on the new disc. A touching highlight of the show for us was the elegiacal “Cold Sweat:” Mr Thomas normally sings with his eyes closed and doesn’t really look out through the lights and into the crowd very often, but as he sang the lines “Thank you / You’ve been great and I really mean that /I love you so /Hold me close /I feel the time running away / I know you must feel it too”, he opened his eyes, reached out his arms, looked around the room, held the moment.

Ubu Projex have been communicating that this tour may be “last chance to see us on the East Coast” in recent social media promotions, so if this was an onstage farewell for Chicago, then I am hugely grateful that we got to see and hear it. A powerful and memorable show from an important and impressive band who really mean a lot to me on a whole lot of levels. Thanks for the rock and roll. Now move those big black boxes.

Autumn of Evidence

1. I am at home today, taking eight hours of PTO (paid time off). I don’t have any particular reason for doing so — except that I recently realized that I have to take several such days between now and the end of the year, lest I forfeit the time under my organization’s “use or lose” leave policy. I know plenty of other organizations have similar policies, and as a financial manager, I understand them at a conceptual level, since accrued PTO shows up as a liability on the balance sheet, so one does not want to just let it amass endlessly. Still, though: when you pause to think about it, it seems like a perverse sort of corporate practice that was likely spawned from group think in a forgotten Human Resources Department somewhere. “You there! You will go home now and you will like it! Or else!” And so I must, and so I do. Now: before you get all puffed up with self-righteous ire and send me a hateful post or three, yes, I do know that this a Big First World Problem to have — boo hoo hoo, me — and I am indeed grateful for the paid time off that I do receive, knowing how many millions of Americans are not so lucky. I wish they all were, truly and deeply. But  still, that said: this is conceptually stupid, right?

2. I recently got a copy of the wonderful 80 Aching Orphans, a four-disc, career-spanning retrospective box set from The Residents, who have been long-time favorites of mine. In case you don’t know the shtick, the incredibly prolific Residents have been churning out high quality, high concept music since the early ’70s, without ever publicly identifying themselves by name or showing their faces. The Eyeballs have been their longest lasting and best known disguise; in recent months, they’ve rolled out a new stage design involving plague masks and cattle. The Rez are currently touring and put out a fantastic new studio album, The Ghost of Hope (which I wrote about in April) earlier this year, but there’s still a bit of an “end of era” vibe as I listen to the new retrospective discs, since one of The Residents recently, all these years on, left the band and de-cloaked. Hardy Fox has served as band spokesperson since the ’70s as a member of the group’s management company, The Cryptic Corporation, but earlier this month, he let it be known on his website that he was “the anonymous primary composer, producer for The Residents from their beginning until 2015.” The Rez had announced that composer “Chuck Bobuck” had left the group earlier this year, so it wasn’t really surprising on some plane, since most seasoned observers “knew” that Bobuck was Hardy Fox, and that Cryptic Corporation’s other principle executive — Homer Flynn — was Randy Rose, The Singing Resident, formerly known as Mister Skull, among other names. But still . . . I honestly never expected either of them to admit as much, so it feels weird listening to their wonderful, wonderful work in a different head space, where they’re no longer all hewing to N. Senada’s “Theory of Obscurity” and denying their identities. At this point, Flynn-Rose-Skull is the last link to the original four-piece incarnation of the band/company (original Cryptic Corp. members Jay Clem and John Kennedy departed in the early ’80s), so here’s hoping Homer’s a-rarin’ to keep it going on behalf of the mostly retired team. I’ll always be willing to suspend disbelief and pretend I don’t know who he is, if I have to, just to get music this good.

3. Speaking of good music, I will likely post my 26th Annual Albums of the Year Report in the next couple of weeks, ideally before Thanksgiving. (Probably on another day when I’m not allowed to go to work, come to think of it). I went back through the past 12 months of listening and reading and pondering, and I pulled together my first cut of likely contenders for the title this past weekend: the list had 29 albums on it, though I will probably tweak it down to 25 in the final report. You readers got some favorites that you think I need to consider before I put pen to paper (or what passes for that in these digital days)? Holla in the comment section, if so! For perspective, here’s the list of what I thought passed muster at the high end of the scale at the mid-point in the year, and the intro to last year’s report cites the title-winners for the past quarter century. Jeez, I’m a creature of habit, aren’t I?

4. Bet you thought the title of this post had something to do with it appearing on Indictment Day, didn’t you? Sure seems like it could and should. But actually, it’s just a reversal of “Evidence of Autumn,” a B-side title from Genesis (the flip-over track to the 1980 “Misunderstanding” single) that I had used as a title for a similar omnibus post some years ago. As we get our first fall weather here in Chicago this week, the phrase/title popped into my head today when I started this post, and then when I realized I had already swiped it from Genesis, I just flipped the words, and it suddenly seemed even more seasonally apt for the days and weeks before us. But I don’t get political here, though, so you can take it as you read it, free and easy, no comment from me. How ’bout them pretty leaves out there, huh?

TREE Fund at 15

2017_TF_AnnualAppeal_Ad_Final

NOTE: TREE Fund just launched its 15th Anniversary Appeal. I would be humbled and honored if those who follow my piffle and tripe here would consider supporting my work on behalf of the organization. I copy our appeal letter below, with a link to our donation page, should you be so inclined. Or if you’d like to get a jump on your holiday shopping while supporting TREE Fund, we’ve also got a mad “Sequoia Sized Sale” of cycling and climbing apparel and gear at our online store, here

Dear Friends,

As the leaves turn glorious colors across much of the nation this month, we find it a good time for pausing to consider TREE Fund’s roots, which run deep and strong, anchoring us against challenges, both anticipated and unforeseen.

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the trust agreement signed by esteemed industry titans Allan West and Jerry Morey to create Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (“TREE Fund”), and we celebrate their foresight in empowering a model that works effectively and efficiently to this day. But our roots go even deeper than that, as TREE Fund is the successor organization to the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust (ISART, founded in 1976) and the National Arborist Foundation (NAF, 1985), which were established to formalize and streamline the acquisition of knowledge in the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry, and the professional training and certification of businesses and individuals who plan, plant, preserve and protect our crucial urban forests.

Tens of thousands of individuals and businesses have worked together and pooled their resources since those early organizational days to empower scientific advancements and disseminate findings to tree care professionals, municipalities, urban planners and architects, and to property owners and the general public. The power of such partnerships is profound, and has directly contributed a greater understanding of the role trees play in the urban biome, and their benefits to our shared community health, environment and economy.

Our organizational roots are healthy, and they are anchored in the good and fertile soil of scientific inquiry and exploration. But that does not mean our work is done: just as mature trees with strong roots require attention and care to respond to changing situations, so too does TREE Fund depend on faithful annual support for today’s needs, even as we build endowments to secure our long-term work.

One of the 1976 signatures on the original ISART articles of incorporation read “Hyland R. Johns” – and we are honored that Hyland is joining us as co-Chair of our 15th Anniversary Appeal. Please click here (then select “General Operating Fund”) to make a gift that will commemorate this milestone, empower our staff today, and push for our next decade of transformational operations from a position of financial health and stability.

Thank you for your consideration. We appreciate it, and it will make a difference.

With gratitude and best regards,

J. Eric Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer

Hyland Johns, Founding Trustee, ISA Research Trust

ISA remains one of TREE Fund’s most important partners, supporting our operations and endowment via their annual membership dues.

#ChicagoMarathon

We have great views from our apartment and neighborhood of the Chicago Marathon, which is being run today. As per usual when a big event like this is going on around me, I’ve been snapping away at things with my camera, and posted some photos (copied below) on my Twitter feed. The first photo in the sequence has been going wildly viral as the race is still being run; at one point, it was the first image returned when searching for the “#ChicagoMarathon” hashtag. The image was snapped directly behind our apartment building, and it shows “The Chicago Layer Cake: Commerce and Tourism on top, Elite Sports in the middle, and Homelessness beneath our feet.” Food for thought. And then action.

Ten More Statements

Refute, support, disregard, disparage?

1. If you need more than three consecutive tweets to say something on Twitter, then you should not be saying it on Twitter. Get a blog.

2. People who romanticize or look forward to business travel do not do much business travel.

3. Uriah Heep are a far more entertaining rock band than whoever your cool friends are listening to right now.

4. Not being able to wear a hoodie or a chunky knit sweater comfortably in October is a very, very bad thing.

5. Whenever you hear an airplane, you are required to look up until you spot it. Bonus nerd points if you can identify it.

6. If you curse in a song and then issue a “clean version” to get popular radio or television play, then your cursing was superfluous and didn’t need to be there in the first place. Stand by your profanity, dammit, if it’s integral your art!

7. Human Sexual Response were the most unique, unusual and thrilling American band of the early ’80s, and their two albums would be more than enough for you if you were to be stranded on a desert island with them.

8. Paul Gauguin is not all that.

9. If you don’t like Elvis Presley, and you don’t like gospel music, then you need to listen to Elvis Presley singing gospel music. Right now. Go on. I’ll be here when you get back.

10. Every food can be improved with butter, while every food will be ruined with mayonnaise.