Here's another installment in the occasional series in which I revisit some good shows of yore. Today: World of Pooh at Maxwell's on March 16, 1990—one of the most unbearably tense gigs I've ever seen. Forget pigfuck audience abuse or whatnot: We watched two people psychologically pummel each other on stage, and it really was not fun at all. It was also, of course, entirely memorable.
At that time, I was finishing my MA in history at Rutgers, though the truth is that most of my memories of that era have to do with music rather than scholarly pursuits: doing shows on WRSU, going to gigs several times a week—I'd gotten very familiar with the New Jersey turnpike (and Route 1, when I was too broke for the toll). I can't remember what prompted me to go see World of Pooh. I don't remember if I had their sole full-length, 1989's Land of Thirst, by then or if I bought it at the show. I may have been prompted by having heard the band was pals with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, which I absolutely loved back then, ever since mail-ordering their debut cassette, Wormed by Leonard. World of Pooh was pretty emblematic of a short window in the mid-80s to early 90s when San Francisco was a hotbed of screwed-up inventivity. When I saw mentions of the NufSed label, Seymour Glass' Bananafish fanzine or producer Greg Freeman, I knew there was a good chance I'd like whatever it was.
World of Pooh was Barbara Manning on bass, Brandan Kearney on guitar and Jay Paget on drums; the group was both propelled and hampered by the love-hate relationship between Manning and Kearney, who were partners on and off stage. Except their couple was imploding at the time, and they took it all out to us, the audience. On record the songs revealed pent-up hostility beneath the jangly exterior, but even that didn't prepare us for Maxwell's.
Kearney kept berating and humiliating Manning, telling her she was fat and couldn't play, and she either demured uncomfortably or looked at him in what I now remember as stunned passivity. It was just horrible to watch, and of course completely enthralling. It didn't feel like a put-on but like the raw implosion of a couple right in front of us, Scenes from a Marriage punk rock–style. In fact, this turned out to be World of Pooh's last show, the band pretty much ending right there and then because Manning and Kearney could not function together anymore. And the weirdest part is that in between the tense banter, they managed to sound great.
Now, an art experience given extra meaning by the romantic relationship between two of the principals isn't new, from Richard and Linda Thompson to Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. And the downfall of an artistic couple can be obvious fodder for both parties. But there's something quite different about listening to a song about a break-up and seeing the break-up of both a relationship and a band with your very eyes. World of Pooh at Maxwell's was uncomfortable because we were privy to something abjectly personal. It feels quaint in our age of sharing too much, but 18 years ago hearing and seeing this hate-filled intimacy was quite jarring.
Manning went on to a rich if now tragically unheralded solo career; Paget joined Thinking Fellers; and Kearney continued being active with a variety of projects including Caroliner, Job's Daughters, Archipelago Brewing Co. and Faxed Head, as well as the NufSed label.
World of Pooh "Mr. Coffee-Nerves" (from Land of Thirst, 1989)
World of Pooh "Bone Happy" (from Land of Thirst, 1989)
World of Pooh "Mogra" (from Land of Thirst, 1989)
World of Pooh "Druscilla Penny" (a cover of an odd 1971 song by the Carpenters, one of the few performed by Richard; from a free single that came with an issue of Bananafish)
4 days ago