Mekonathon

As I’ve said repeatedly, the Mekons are my favorite rock ’n’ roll band. Their music has sustained me since about 1990, after I first saw them at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro, already more than a decade into their careers. By then, they had already gone beyond their punk roots, invented alt.country avant la lettre, and skewered capitalism on Mekons Rock and Roll. But despite all the complications, they love that rock and roll, and they’ve put on several of the best shows I’ve heard, starting with that gig in Chicago, which had become a sort of hometown for this widely scattered British band. I had only heard a few songs before that night, but I was immediately converted, not just by vocalist Sally Timms in her silver lamé dress, one of the sexiest performers I had ever seen, but by the lot of them, fronted by Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh, serious enough about their chosen music to know not to take it too seriously. Now in their 50s, they are all magnetic, still sexy as hell, even when they’re more-or-less knowingly fucking around, drinking too much, and still not taking anything too seriously.

So I couldn’t miss their latest UK visit, two gigs last weekend in London. With the blinders of any true fan, I admit I don’t understand why the Mekons aren’t a lot more rich and famous, and I was a little disheartened to find the clubs they played, The Lexington in Kings X, and the Windmill in Brixton, are basically pubs with stages. They packed the places, largely with mid-50s blokes in flannel shirts and short hair, who were maybe more interested in reprises of the 70s material than the (inarguably better) stuff from the 80s, 90s and 00s — with their first album of the new decade due later in the year — but I don’t quite get why they shouldn’t be playing and filling bigger clubs.

The gigs (yes, I went to both) surveyed their nearly three and a half decades, from punk to country to whatever hybrid they’re up to now, wielding their guitars — not to mention accordion, fiddle and mandolin — to tell what usually end up as stories of political or emotional betrayal, unrequited love for a better world. They played their gorgeous cover of John Anderson’s Wild and Blue, Sally taking some time for singing off from the shouting she seems to sometimes prefer; considered the modern history of London in Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem; and lamented the ongoing death of rock ’n’ roll in Memphis, Egypt. Saturday, with multi-instrumentalist (and occasional cohort of John Lydon) Lu Edmonds off for the night, they devoted their encore to a reworking of their punk phase, albeit without putting down the accordion and fiddle.

Friday was tighter, less silly, probably less drunk — and was partially filmed for the still-planned Mekons movie — but I’m happy to put up with the Mekons however they come, put a few quid into their pockets so that they keep getting together every few years and give us a new record and a few gigs.

Bonus: A shambles of an encore from the Zurich leg of the tour, featuring Toronto’s Sadies and the Mekons performing “Memphis, Egypt” and “Where Were You?”. If you don’t already love the Mekons, this won’t convert you, but if you do, it may remind you why, and will certainly put a smile on your face. (Via Back to the World)