Since reactivating Pere Ubu in 1987 David Thomas and his cohorts have kept the focus consistently forward and in the process have accumulated one of rock’s more impressive discographies. In 2015 Fire Records began to collect Ubu’s early material into vinyl box sets, a smart maneuver helping to introduce those canonical works to a younger audience. The Coed Jail! tour finds Ubu’s current lineup tackling selections from 1975-1982, and on June 24 they brought the avant-garage to Washington, DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel with inspired precision.
As one of the busier active veteran units there was really little worry Pere Ubu’s live excursion into the back catalogue would be tentative or out-of-sync. Furthermore, as their generous yet efficient set unfurled from inside the intimate environs of the Rock and Roll Hotel, the assurances that Coed Jail! was something other than a mere greatest hits tour proved right on the money. Instead, the tour sheds contemporary light upon an era of enduring relevance, with Ubu conjuring a wild, utterly human sound.
The evening began with a short and loose appearance by Cleveland’s Obnox. Featuring ex-Bassholes and This Moment in Black History drummer Lamont “Bim” Thomas, for this current endeavor he plays guitar, sings, and in a maneuver sure to catch a few newcomers off guard, raps over a foundation of looped amp noise and live drums.
The majority of Obnox’s set, which found the duo joined on a pair of occasions by Ubu drummer Steve Mehlman, was raw, bluesy garage punk likely to please fans of assorted acts on the In the Red label. Plus, the non-gimmicky dives into hip hop actually brought to mind the merger of white hickdom and urban blackness found in Thomas’ Bassholes associate Don Howland’s work in The Gibson Bros. However, the execution was quite different as Thomas evinced a real talent for rapping.