Monday, March 17, 2008

Scenes from a break-up

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)


Mike said...

I think part of the thrill/horror was in the fact that we knew exactly what was happening. You and some friends and I had interviewed Barbara a couple of hours earlier, and she'd spoken with great candor about the whole sorry situation with Brendan and her band. With this knowledge, WoP's set was totally like an indie-rock version of the Shoot Out The Lights tour - except Linda apparently actually threw stuff at Richard, whereas Barbara just played her bass and seethed. I remember leaving before headliners Yo La Tengo because I didn't see how they could follow.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I didn't see Yo La Tengo either. I've always disliked that band and yet I've seen them (or at least part of their sets) a relatively high number of times because they've always had great opening acts. I'd watch then opener then stay for YLT, just in case, and would end up leaving after a few songs.

Mike said...

Totally - I was never a YLT fan until Painful, and yet I had seen them dozens of times up to that point. The Go Team (the K band) opened up for them as well, remember?

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Oh yes! I may do a revisit on the Go Team one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Kearney kept berating and humiliating Manning, telling her she was fat and couldn't play,

That was indeed a tense show, for any number of reasons that don't bear going into here (or anywhere else, for that matter).

But I am willing to state pretty definitively that at no point did I call Barbara "fat." That would've been unthinkable to me in public or private, no matter how much duress I was under or how much I'd had to drink.

As for the rest of it, had been a long, long week. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.



Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, I probably told her she was "flat" (i.e., out of tune).

If so, I'm sure the way I said it made a pretty unpleasant impression. But still, it's not quite as crude as what you're describing.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Ah I'm sincerely sorry about the mix-up about fat/flat. It looks like I was betrayed either by my ears then or my memory now.

Trey said...

Thank You!

I loved World of Pooh! - I used to be a bartender at a sleazoid bar in SF back in the day where World of Pooh played a bunch. I was actually pretty good friends with Barbara (she played the first live show ever at my bar, fresh out of 28th Day) until I started dating Cole Marquis' ex-girlfriend (another pathological Barbara tale). Anyway, I lost my copy of Land of Thirst years ago and have been looking for it for years. So thank you for posting the mp3s! I would gladly pay for the rest if you have them!


Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Contact me directly for MP3s. And if you can wait a bit, I believe a World of Pooh CD is in the works.

Anonymous said...

I have a recording of this show, and what Brandan actually said was, "You're looking a little heavy tonight, Barbara."

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