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Pop Music Review

David Thomas Layers Humor With Pathos

April 19, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

You'd think songs that sound like Martian beat poetry would come from an artist so far out that few people could relate. And truthfully, the appreciative audience gathered Tuesday at the Knitting Factory to hear David Thomas and his Two Pale Boys was pretty small.

Still, anyone with an open mind could have felt the honest emotion at the core of the music's cacophonous melodies and spontaneous soundscapes. After all, Thomas always injected surprising humanity into Pere Ubu's dissonant screeds and offbeat pop when he led that pioneering art-rock band, which influenced such innovators as Talking Heads and the Pixies.

Abetted by guitarist Keith Moline, trumpeter Andy Diagram and an array of electronic-effects devices, the massive singer performed barefoot, sometimes donning a red vinyl apron. He squeezed mournful notes from his melodeon (a sort of small accordion), swigged from a hip flask and sometimes read lyrics from his notebook.

Despite the often dirge-like tone, the hourlong set passed quickly. As Thomas reflected on romantic dissolution and the limits of acceptable behavior, the players layered sounds upon sounds to create ever-shifting textures that mirrored the tunes' blend of humor and pathos. But ultimately, Thomas' blunt confessions and vivid emotional snapshots are what made the evening so strangely compelling.

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