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Concert Review: David Thomas & Two Pale Boys – Cleveland, OH, April 10, 2007

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Outlandish. Persuasive. Startling. Exploratory. How else to describe a David Thomas & Two Pale Boys performance? Daunting and rare it is in this day and age to come away from art, music and live performance harboring more descriptors than answers David Thomas has fashioned a career out of startling ruminations from his psyche – delivering caterwaul calls through post-modern fiction for the auditory system. Thomas is the iconoclast catalyst behind Cleveland’s indie stalwarts Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs and delivers the epic and eclectic in a way that no one else can.

His “David Thomas & Two Pale Boys” (2PB) project was formed in 1994 as a way to scale some of those sonic notions back. The bandleader’s ponderings are still edgy, splattered with cogent woe and unflinching honesty – but he and his sidemen Andy Diagram and current Ubu member Keith Moliné have a far different tact in this musical union. A more adroit touch signifies each and every musical note.

The grand Pere of Northeast Ohio’s underground rock scene brought 2PB back to Cleveland for their only show in the United States this year at the Beachland Tavern in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland. And the cacophony and charisma held together astonishingly well, with the trio offering up selections from Surf’s Up, Erewhon and the most recent effort, 18 Monkeys on a Dead Man’s Chest.

Trumpeter Diagram (Diagram Brothers, James, Spaceheads) distorts his embouchure through receivers, echo machines and other devices and forges brassy shades of electronica; guitarist Moliné (They Came From The Stars I Saw Them, Infidel) chokes out angular melodies and distorted drones from his fretboard. And in the middle of it all stood Thomas – a gargantuan presence, by any measure – delivering avant-garde beat poetry and spoken word prose through the sonic squalor and playing melodeon and the bellows-driven French musette.

“New Orleans Fuzz” and “Prepare for the End” were but a few of the outings on this fair night. It was hard to keep track of the rest; as a listener, you sort of felt carried along by the current, awash in the performance art of Thomas' tales. How utterly rare. In that context, startling doesn’t even begin to describe what the crowd witnessed. And that’s a good thing. When you don't know quite what you just witnessed, that's when you know you've been challenged. Everyone who has lost faith in the art form called rock and roll should have been at the Beachland that Tuesday night.

Too bad the place isn't big enough for all of ya.

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About Peter Chakerian