Song Of The Day 6/17/2013: Pere Ubu - "Drinking Wine Spodyody" (+ "Humor Me")

All you kids ready for a story? A true one? Okay, kids, gather round. Billy, don't smoke that.

So it's the early '90s, I'm living in San Francisco, and Pere Ubu comes to town to play Slim's. It must have been in support of the Worlds In Collision album. I'm at the show with a friend of mine with whom I've since completely lost all contact.

David Thomas is Pere Ubu's lead singer, and in a character quite opposite to the effect that Pere Ubu's dark, chaotic and deeply artistic records had, he's a charismatic, quite funny frontman. He's a thickly set gentleman wearing a suit jacket and a fedora. He looks more like Stubby Kaye playing Nicely Nicely Johnson than the leader of one of the most important experimental bands in rock history.

He's been doing this gag all show, it goes like this: Thomas asks the audience a trivia question. If an audience member shouts out the correct answer, then he or she earns the right to make a request. If the band knows or remembers the requested song, then they play it. But if the band doesn't know it, then Thomas pays that audience member one dollar. (They were breaking in a new member as I recall, and he didn't know all the Pere Ubu catalogue, so there was a decent chance they couldn't play.)

So all show long, Thomas is asking questions like, "What's the capitol of South Dakota?" "What's the tallest building in the United States?" Stuff that's fairly easy. But the resultant requests are hit-or-miss; I think they're only able to manage one or two of the songs coming from the audience. More often, Thomas hears the request, thinks, shakes his head, dips into his pocket, pulls out a dollar bill and gives it to the audience member.

Late in the set Thomas says, "Okay, here's one. What very polluted river near Cleveland, Ohio was known as 'The Burning Stream'?"

I know my Randy Newman records. "The Cuyahoga!" I yell out.

Thomas turns his head to me. "Whaddaya wanna hear?"

"'Drinking Wine Spodyody!'"

"AAAAAGH!" Thomas groans. "We can't do it!" So he dips into his pocket, stops, looks up with a grim look on his face. He mutters something to the band, then talks to the crowd.

"Um... okay, looks like we're gonna have to do 'Drinking Wine Spodyody' because I've run out of dollar bills." The audience cheers. Thomas and the more seasoned members of the band are huddling around, trying to explain how to play this song. Finally they start.

It is a hilarious performance. It's clear Pere Ubu is struggling, though gamely, and the crowd laughs it up. At the end of the song, after cheers mixed with guffaws, Thomas addresses the crowd:

"I just want you to know... If you're talking to all your friends tomorrow and you find yourself saying, 'Yeah, the Pere Ubu show was great, until they did that ridiculous "Drinking Wine Spodyody,"' listen man, don't blame me, don't blame Pere Ubu..." Then he points his finger at me. "Blame that guy."

Audience laughs, Thomas goes on. "You know, everything was going so well. It was just perfect, we were all having a great evening... but then he" -- pointing at me again -- "had to go and ruin it for all of you." I'm in heaven.

Hey, I can't help it if you don't bring enough money to your shows, Dave.

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