Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rocket From the Tombs - Barfly (Fire Records)

When David Thomas dubbed Pere Ubu “Avant-garage” he did so in a playful, facetious manner, mostly to give rock critics something to chew on. Of course, as Bryan Ferry observed, throwaway lines often ring true. Pere Ubu, especially in the Seventies, combined primitive, aggressive guitar based rock and primal emotional expression with a unique performance (especially Thomas’s vocals) idiom and lyrics that derived from intellectual abstractions not common to the “Nuggets” generation that inspired the band. It’s hard to imagine the Shadows of Knight arriving at lyric conceits like “Non-Alignment Pact” (basically a desperate plea for fidelity built on a diplomatic metaphor … but still) or “Final Solution.” You know?

Ubu, arguably one of rock’s greatest and most important bands to remain little known, was an offspring of another tremendous band. That same band birthed the Dead Boys – a group that had everything and nothing in common with Pere Ubu. That mother of a band was Rocket from the Tombs. RFTT existed for about a year, straddling 1974 and 1975. They played a handful of shows, mostly in their native Cleveland. They never released a record.

But from Rocket From the Tombs' repertoire Pere Ubu took “Final Solution,” ‘Life Stinks,” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” while the Dead Boys derived “Sonic Reducer,” “Ain’t it Fun,” and “Down in Flames.” In other words, a chunk of the core repertoire that helped establish two pretty important punk era bands originated with RFTT. And it’s noteworthy that their sound could, pretty easily really, inform two outfits as rocking, but divergent as Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. And you, by God, could call them Avant-garage.