The Mekons have long been a favorite (obsession?) of mine: formed in Leeds during the UK punk explosion, they celebrated their 30th anniversary with a show at London’s Dingwalls. Grey-haired fifty-year-old blokes who probably weren’t actually there at the original shows in the 70s dominated the audience, and the music covered the whole period, especially the middle decade during which they arguably invented alt.country, produced blistering anticapitalist rock’n’roll anthems, and analyzed the fall of the Berlin Wall. If this show didn’t live up to their best, I still hope I age as gracefully (or is it gracelessly?) as they are.
A newer obsession is The Hold Steady, a band from Minneapolis via Brooklyn, ever since I saw them on Later with Jules Holland, and especially after singer Craig Finn’s encomium to the Replacements and the rest of the mid-80s Minneapolis music scene — Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, and outside the indie sphere, of course, Prince (see below!). Their newish record, Boys And Girls in America, and their show at Shepherds Bush Empire in London are a rock-nerd’s mash-up of 70s and 80s rock ‘n’ roll from Thin Lizzy to Springsteen with seedy stories of love, drugs, drinking and sex. The best song on the record (and at the show), “Stuck Between Stations”, quotes Kerouac and recounts the suicide of poet John Berryman between lines about a girl who “was a really cool kisser and she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian. She was a damn good dancer but she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend.” The audience, much younger than the Mekons’, veered towards frat-boy-style, perhaps missing the core of despair amid the anthems. But I was happy enough to jump up and down among them.
This week I saw Joan as Policewoman (the name is a reference to a 70s TV show) also in Shepherds Bush — her honeyed voice is in the straight singer-songwriter style, but her sheer joy at interacting with the audience, not to mention her sense of humor, propelled her lovely songs over her rather workmanlike band.
Finally, I embarrassedly plunked down £1.40 for today’s Mail on Sunday — for its exclusive giveaway of the new CD from Prince — not otherwise for sale in the UK. It’s not a masterpiece like Purple Rain or Sign O’ the Times, but even low-grade Prince is worth wading through a hundred pages of tabloid crap to listen to.