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Pere Ubu, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes

It seems like the perfect marriage of two so-called “missing links.” Pere Ubu, who came along in 1975, have been called the lost connection between the Velvet Underground and punk. Producer-director Roger Corman, it can be argued, is the missing link between old Hollywood and new. They come together tomorrow (Friday) night at MASS MoCA when Pere Ubu will perform their original musical score for Corman’s 1963 horror film X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes.

The plot takes the classic goth mad-scientist plot and joins it to the sleazier side of American pulp fictions. Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland) is obsessed with his advanced research in human optics. One experiment gone awry and one murder later, the good doctor can see through clothes and is on the run, hiding out in a carnival run by Don Rickles and posing as a psychic. The problem is—we’re just getting to the problem—his vision keeps getting stronger and stronger, to disturbing effect.

The British rock rag New Musical Express has called Pere Ubu “the world’s only expressionist rock & roll band, harnessing a range of rock and musique concrete elements together in a sound which drew its power from, and worked on, levels of consciousness previously untouched by popular music.”

Yes, they were great; no, they didn’t sell many records; and yes, after all these years and numerous personnel changes, Pere Ubu are still making haunting and compelling music.

Their score for X, which premiered in Brooklyn last year, has won raves. As The Argus described it: “Pere Ubu have created a sympathetic and subtle soundtrack which works with the film rather than stamping their distinctive mark on it.”

Pere Ubu will perform their original music for a screening of X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 12) at 8:30 PM at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.). Doors open at 8 PM. Tickets are $17. For tickets and information, call (413) 662-2111.

Elegies: A Song Cycle

Composer-lyricist William Finn’s work Elegies: A Song Cycle is a compilation of songs that were written in tribute to a selection of deceased people (and some deceased dogs) who have had a great impact on the writer’s life. Finn is highly regarded as a master storyteller; his works include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (which premiered at the Barrington Stage Company) and Falsettos, and he has won two Tony Awards for the latter. The Boston Globe has said of Elegies, “What Finn accomplishes in Elegies is nothing short of miraculous.”

The performance tonight (Thursday) of Elegies by Barrington Stage Company is a preview; tomorrow (Friday) is opening night. There will also be a postshow talk with Finn after tomorrow night’s performance; the talk is included in the price of the ticket.

The Barrington Stage Company will present Elegies: A Song Cycle at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Castle Street, Great Barrington, Mass.) tonight (Thursday, Aug. 11) through Aug. 28. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 PM, Wednesday-Saturday at 8 PM, Fridays also at 2 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM. Ticket prices are $15-$48. For more information and to buy tickets, call (413) 528-0100.

Brian Wilson

There are few words in the rock-crit lexicon as overused as “legendary.” But, when talking about Brian Wilson’s album Smile, few others seem apt.

Wilson and the Beach Boys began recording the album, which was to be the follow-up to their creative landmark album Pet Sounds, in 1967. But Wilson’s record label and bandmates were less than confident about the commercial viability of the composer’s proposed “teenage symphony to God.” (As critically well-received as Pet Sounds was, it wasn’t nearly as profitable in the short term as the suits would choose—go figure.) In addition to external opposition, Wilson’s own personal problems—heavy drug use and bouts of mental illness—made it impossible to complete the album. So, after a whopping 72 recording sessions, Smile was shelved; and from that shelf it proceeded directly to the realm of legend.

Over the years, afficianados have pieced together available bits of the album, using the few commercially released tracks (including “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villians”), missing bits provided by the Beach Boys box set, and numerous bootlegs. It was possible to kinda-sorta re-create what maybe-mighta been something-sorta like the mysterious withheld record. But these unofficial compilations weren’t the thing itself. Smile had become the Holy Grail of pop music.

After 37 years, the grail received a release date.

In September 2004, Nonesuch Records issued Smile, a version rerecorded by Wilson, arranger- lyricist Van Dyke Parks and Wilson’s new backing band, the Wondermints. It is, to put it mildly, quite a piece of work. The three-movement rock opera pulls out all the stops: sweeping, orchestral, diverse—even scattered at times—exuberant, mindblown. This is not your mama’s Beach Boys.

On Sunday (Aug. 18), Wilson will perform Smile, along with other of his compositions, at SPAC (Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs). He’ll be backed by a 10-piece band, including the Wondermints and a brass octet—to better capture all the aforementioned adjectives. Tickets are $15-$60. For more information, call 476-1000.

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