The show was about as well matched with an opening act as you could imagine—the rare appearance in these parts of Johnny Dowd, an authentic outsider voice in his own right, doing his own idiosyncratic thing.
Raised in Texas and Oklahoma, living for decades in Ithaca, NY, he’s
created a bunch of weird spoken word, warped country, and neo-blues recordings that have lately been accompanied by the incongruous sounds of a drum
machine. Like Jim White (with whom he once formed a band a decade ago, Hellwood), he blends absurdist spoken word poetry and unexpected music for something that like Ubu, is in the tradition of Beat poets, jazz hipsters, and street corner savants.
Rather than being menacing as Thomas was capable of being, Dowd, 69, was goodnatured and laughed along with the absurdity, allowing his guitarist Mike Edmondson to begin with an a cappella Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good” (when clearly his life as a rock figure has been something else) before the sudden jolt of “I Crawled Up the Rat’s Ass.”
As in the handmade poetry books he sold on site, he could come up with sharp lines that stood out. He pretended to be a funk god as “The White Dolomite,” and deconstructed “Freddy’s Dead” for his own purposes. He and Edmondson almost seemed more interested in telling the dumb jokes between songs.
They even made fun of the hopelessly dated disco-era drum machine that backed most of the songs, suggesting we “give the drummer some.” But they won over the crowd enough to have them sing along to “I love the bright lights of Washington, DC; I wanna be a star like Conway Twitty.”
He ended the semi-sincere a cappella of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” before rocking out with a version of it, encouraging a gesture that contrasted mightily with the headliner’s scowl.
Then it’s the PEre Ubu show and merch sales. Only thing lost on this trip: Johnny’s moustache. It was one snoop too many.