Entering to the support late as a punter can really spoil the set and sometimes a fun-sized show leaves you berating yourself for being late. This was definitely in the later camp, the ten minutes or so we caught of Sweet Williams were mouth-watering. We walked into a sparsely populated Komedia after they had just kicked into ‘So Right,’ a track that was already special on its release back in 2011 and has improved further through elongation and repeated live performance. The glacial pace means that the beautifully clear bass and guitar fills the air which gave the distinct impression that this is a band that really cares about how things sound. This exercise in the beauty of restraint occasional ups in urgency due to some inventive drum fills. It’s a little heavier than Slint and not quite as slow paced as Earth but is sure to appeal to fans of both. To complete the two card trick there was a heavier closer, based around a 2 note bass riff, some impressively intense screaming and unholy industrial tinged guitars. This is a band with a broad range.
One supposes that you should be prepared for most eventualities at a Pere Ubu gig, legendary main man David Thomas, only ever being predictable in his unpredictability but this one got the better of a seasoned campaigner. Thomas was noticeably slow to the stage and appeared to have lost weight, his normal seated position looked uncomfortable and he grouchily joked ‘I bet James Brown never had trouble with chairs.’
Musically, there’s not much else out there like them. The band setup is not traditional containing a theramin, live clarinet and a guitarist playing both bass and guitar strings, on tope of the more standard drums and synths. Thomas comes to life as soon as they kick in and the first three tracks contain elements of Tom Waits, ambient music, hard rockabilly, post-rock, free jazz and a newly formed genre of clarinet and bass. Thomas, not known for kindness to soundmen or drummers is brutal in his criticism of both so much so that it becomes a little uncomfortable. Something seems wrong.
‘I was in intensive care a couple of days ago,’ Thomas announces, rather too nonchalantly given the subject matter. ‘Grim Reaper 0, David Thomas 3.’ Personally, hearing this sucked the life out of the show, though I appreciate it may have inspired a different reaction with others. My mind so jumbled with questions about this announcement that I’m incapable of focusing on the good, if not great gig unfolding in front of me. Surely he could have postponed the gig for another time? Is this the last chance I’ll get to see him? In how much discomfort is he? Am I being ghoulish staying?
His ailment clearly didn’t affect the singer’s tastebuds. ‘This stuff is vile,’ he announces when tucking into his first glass of Kumala red wine. I take that that as my cue to leave, unable to concentrate and beset by emotional contradictions. I wish I’d been hardier.