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David Thomas

+ {David Thomas & The Pedestrians} + {David Thomas And The Wooden Birds} + {David Thomas And Two Pale Boys} + {David Thomas And The Holy Soul} + {Rocket From The Tombs}

If one wondered if avant-punk pioneers PERE UBU could get more experimental or otherworldly, then a solo (or collaborative) DAVID THOMAS answered that question in spades.
Born June 14, 1953, Miami, Florida, USA… David began his singing/spoken-word career (as Crocus Behemoth) in June 1974 spearheading proto-punk outfit ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS, a band from Cleveland, Ohio that almost immediately imploding two ways: the garage-punk DEAD BOYS and the aforesaid art-rock PERE UBU.
Behemoth and Laughner instigated their new-fangled combo in September ‘75, recruiting other musicians, namely Tim Wright (bass), Allen Ravenstine (synths), Tom Herman (guitar) and Scott Krauss (drums). Released on their own Hearthan imprint, PERE UBU issued their first of four classic 45s, `30 Seconds Over Tokyo’, which, in turn, led to gigs at Max’s Kansas City. Another gem of a track, `Final Solution’, was unleashed soon afterwards, although Laughner departed (he died of drug/alcohol abuse on June 22, 1977) – the line-up at this stage numbered Thomas, Ravenstine, Herman, Krause and newcomer Tony Maimone on bass/piano – prior to the release of their equally rare third and fourth indie platters, `Street Waves’ and `The Modern Dance’.
“The Modern Dance” (1978) – the album – finally surfaced on the obscure US Blank label, and a few months later in the UK; on Mercury Records. The sound was clearly a break from the over-saturated new wave/punk market, echoing as it did a revival of the avant-garde, aka CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and an ENO-era ROXY MUSIC. PERE UBU duly inked a deal at Chrysalis Records, where the unveiled four further sets, “Dub Housing” (1978), “New Picnic Time” (1979), “The Art Of Walking” (1980) and “Song Of The Bailing Man” (1982).
Having already released a solo version of `Petrified’ (flipped with a re-vamp of The BEACH BOYS’ trad hit `Sloop John B.’) and his own debut album with his PERE UBU-filtered Pedestrians, THE SOUND OF THE SAND AND OTHER SONGS OF THE PEDESTRIAN (1982) {*7}, the course of the next five years was littered with several LPs. The aforementioned set unveiled his usual off-the-scale larynx (best examples, `Man’s Best Friend’, `The Birds Are A Good Idea’ and the polka-friendly `Happy To See You’), and with a raft of quirky guests on show, such as RICHARD THOMPSON, drummer Chris Cutler (from HENRY COW) and Philip Moxham (from YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS), it was head-above-the-parapet stuff for the “old mental giant”, THOMAS.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME (1983) {*7} and the live WINTER COMES HOME (1983) {*6} continued to embrace the weird and wonderful world of THOMAS, the first of showcasing guitar folk-rocker RT once again and other HENRY COW alumni, Lindsay Cooper (bassoon) and Jack Monck (bass); check out `Pedestrian Walk’, `Bird Town’, `The Egg And I’ and `A Day Out At The Botanical Gardens’.
It seemed without the name of Pere Ubu behind him (although Maimone and Cutler were still in tow), DT felt at ease with his avant-garde loopiness, and while MORE PLACES FOREVER (1985) {*7} had more of the strange and ethereal, one could find a place for such atmospheric noodling like `Whale Head King’, `New Broom’ and his usual polka-dotterel `Enthusiastic’.
Switching group billing to his Wooden Birds (Maimone, David Hild and the re-instated Ravenstine), MONSTER WALKS THE WINTER LAKE (1986) {*5} turned out a tad disappointing, although BLAME THE MESSENGER (1987) {*7} brought some relief for his following when newbie Cleveland guitarist Jim Jones pulled some strings – so to speak; the returning Cutler superseded percussionist Hild.
Duly sidestepping between solo projects and re-formed PERE UBU releases, DAVID THOMAS (at first with his Two Pale Boys: sonic subordinate Keith Moline and trumpeter Andy Diagram) released the rather claustrophobic EREWHON (1996) {*5}. Recalling the weird and wonderful “Swordfishtrombones” by TOM WAITS, at least in surrealism; the 11-minute deconstructive finale track, misleadingly titled `Highway 61 Revisited’, was nothing to do with a certain bard.
Regrouping with The Pale Orchestra and conducted by DAVID THOMAS, the un-Beefheart-ian MIRROR MAN (1999) {*6} was pure rock opera mixed with cosmic readings; a few recited by former folkie LINDA THOMPSON. To kick off the millennium, DAVID THOMAS and foreigners (mainly Danish musicians: Jorge Teller, P/O/ Jorgens and Per Buhl Acs) got together for the avant-garde improv live set, BAY CITY (2000) {*6}, while a second proper with the Two Pale Boys, SURF’S UP! (2001) {*7} – named after their BEACH BOYS title track – explored further Americana themes.
Unlikely at it seemed at the time (as only bootlegs and a recent archival CD had surfaced so far), David re-formed ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS, enlisting the help of TELEVISION’s Richard Lloyd, Cheetah Chrome, Craig Bell and Steve Mehlman to re-work old Peter Laughner-penned numbers, including `Ain’t It Fun’, `Life Stinks’ and `Amphetamine’ on ROCKET REDUX (2004) {*7}. Thomas’s `30 Seconds Over Tokyo’, `Sonic Reducer’ and `Down In Flames’, re-captured RFTT in the heyday although some four decades on.
Together again with Two Pale Boys, THOMAS delivered another brave set of weird and wonderful tracks in 18 MONKEYS ON A DEAD MAN’S CHEST (2004) {*6},
As time slipped by, and it seemed PERE UBU or THOMAS were out of music town on a sabbatical, up popped a second ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS set: BARFLY (2011) {*6}. 35 years in the making one could say, it was indeed the quintet’s first record of freshly-authored material; `I Sell Soul’ and `Romeo & Juliet’ having emerged on a rare 45 in 2010. It would be significant if this ancestral project would supersede David’s other outlets, but one could hear that just possibly he was enjoying rumbling in the musical jungle again; the simplicity of R&B-type `Love Train Express’, `Sister Love Train’ and `Maelstrom’ filled a gap for lovers of all things nostalgically new wave.
The long-absent ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS, meanwhile, clocked up yet another unexpected album release for Crocus and Co toward the end of 2015. No longer were Chrome and Lloyd in the quintet; in their place stood Buddy Akita (ex-THIS MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORY) and Gary Siperko (ex-Whiskey Daredevils) when BLACK RECORD {*7} emerged. At a half-hour running time most alt-rock/indie fans might feel short changed. However, in taking into account their punk-rock grounding, all seemed tickety-boo whilst they fired out covers of The DEAD BOYS’ `Sonic Reducer’ and The SONICS’ `Strychnine’; of the other band originals (Craig Bell’s fiery `Read It And Weep’ a particular ball-buster), opener `Waiting For The Snow’ and `Nugefinger’ detached them from Thomas’ other act.
On a footnote, the Crocus Behemoth himself, Brighton resident DAVID THOMAS (& Danish avant-gardist P.O. Jorgens) expanded their CVs via LIVE FREE OR DIE (2017) {*6}.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2019

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