By the time we were hiding our stamped hand at the Phantasy in the late '80s, 15-60-75 -- or "the Numbers Band" as the grads called them -- seemed like the blues-band hobby of scenester leftovers. So it was always hard to rationalize Pere Ubu leader David Thomas's constant adoration of that group. His salute continues with this re-release of a 1976 live show, on Thomas's own label. It's a bracing reminder that, of course, we had never actually seen the Numbers Band and that "the blues" is a relative term.
What probably sounded a bit too practiced to their mid-'70s underground-rock contemporaries now sounds right in line with the new rock music of that time. Straight beats start to crack underneath the bent-up, standard 12 bars and charging saxes. Robert Kidney's voice, at first clichéd, is soon spouting desperation. This is '70s rock reinvention, done by cats who caught Roxy Music every time they were in the vicinity. It's not their fault they weren't pill-popping, art-damaged misfits. For that we had Pere Ubu.
Concurrent with the 15-60-75 release comes Hearpen's reissue of a live Pere Ubu album recorded between 1978 and '81. Here, Pere Ubu's music sounds like the Numbers Band's cerebral blues, scared shitless by the twin zeitgeists of the Industrial Age and the classic rock that's haunted this town since then. Wiry guitar lines duel with staccato riffs; sax gets switched up for Allen Ravenstine's visionary synth waves. Thomas's warbly, spazzed-out, whispers-to-screams are in full strain here.
Pere Ubu was acutely aware of punk's nihilistic vibe, though it was already lamenting the music's constraints: Much of the noisemaking here is subdued and spacey in the face of the encroaching assumption that the new wave was all three-chord/three-minute goose-stepping. There was surely something in Cleveland's water back then, and it wasn't just spilled oil.