There’s no turning back on a suicide ride. David Thomas is an arsehole and a genius. Sydney band The Holy Soul already knew this. Bassist Sam Worrad has been hassling the Sydney Festival for years to invite David Thomas to perform, this year it finally happened. The Holy Soul saw their chance and offered to be Thomas’s backing band in a side show.
The Holy Soul are either monumentally brave or recklessly suicidal.
Thomas has been terrifying audiences, musicians and readers with his band Pere Ubu since 1975. Last night he terrified me, petrified me to the point of unbearable tension. I wanted to flee but I was pinned like a butterfly in a point of light. Thomas berated The Holy Soul, stopped the song ‘Vacuum In My Head’ three times before abandoning it, made them play ‘Clouds Of You’ all the way through, twice and stared so menacingly at Worrad during ‘Perfume’ that I thought he might cry, or spontaneously combust. Thomas was so fierce that even I, sitting in the upstairs gallery, was coursing with unwanted adrenalin.
Control, in the hands of a genius, yields magnificent results. The Holy Soul were electric, all molecules in their beings irreversibly honed on Thomas’s every sound, look and gesture. I have never witnessed four people focus with such intensity. Thomas picked up his miniature accordion for ‘Bus Called Happiness’, sound pulsed through the air as though the universe hung, note for note, suspended on this song and the will of one man. This performance was memorable not only for the terror but the beauty.
Pere Ubu, Thomas’s band, have been described as avant garage and the ‘world’s only expressionist Rock’n’Roll band’, but that was by Thomas himself. Sure it sounds like Rock’n’Roll but there is more to it than that. Calling Pere Ubu Rock’n’Roll is like calling the sun a bit warm.
Last year The Holy Soul’s second album Damn You, Ra was released to critical acclaim. Dropping their whole sound and repertoire to work with Thomas is one of the things that makes this band great, and brave, but it wasn’t the first time. As well as working with David Thomas they have previously shed their songs to improvise with the legendary Damo Suzuki. Thomas understood the power and genius of his backing band. He released their full might in ‘30 Seconds Over Tokyo’, he stepped away from the mic as The Holy Soul let fly. He stood there motionless, with his head bowed and his right arm paused half way through lifting a glass to his lips, just this once relinquishing control as the noise unfolded around him.
Intense was the word of the night, after it was done the audience staggered out onto Enmore Rd. They looked like newly released hostages. They shuffled in silence forming small circles for safety and then it began. It was the kind of debriefing I’d expect after the apocalypse or the funeral of a person on the cusp of adulthood. One woman, with her hand on her heart said, ‘It was gruesome and beautiful but it was also so human. He spoke some kind of truth up there but I don’t think I could have taken any more.’ And we all agreed that it was magnificent but we were glad it was over.
Photo by Lyndal Irons © 2010
Review also appears in RHUM.