All my time I spent in heaven
Revelries of dance and wine
Waking to the sound of laughter
Up I’d rise and kiss the sky
The day did not start auspiciously.
My car was in the shop for the third consecutive day. Putting SOMEONE through college, I am. Then a client dropped a crisis of his own making in my lap, as is his way.
After putting out that fire, I was getting on the road about an hour later than I had hoped. As I was getting into my car (which lightened my wallet 2 1/2 Gs) I got teh Call from Von. She was sick and going to the hospital.
Oh gosh, that was bad news and Von needs to get better so we can drink together again. But the gig was booked; I hit the road.
Ecstasy and fornication
Music, lust and poetry
Something stirs, I hear a warning
I look for Euridice
Lose, Lose, Lose your head
As I anticipated, there was weird Chicago traffic. But the newly renovated ZomCruiser took it all in stride, and I sang along with a Mekons playlist. It was a beautiful day, and it was about music, lust and poetry….
After wriggling my way through typical Second City traffic, things got bound up as I went east. And then I realized; I was driving right through the financial district, right past that building with those shitheads who seem to be insisting that we bring the guillotines, and OWS was making an impressive showing. Oh gosh, it cheered me up. “JUMP! You Fuckers” indeed.
So, after whatever delays, I got to my crappy little hotel room. And I do have to congratulate Chicago for crappy little hotel rooms.
I debated for a while; now that Von was out of the picture, was it worth grabbing dinner at Lincoln Hall? Supposed to be good, but I was running behind and could save a little cash by grabbing a sub. IN the end, I decided I gave not one fuck, and grabbed a cab to Lincoln Hall so I could grab some food prior. Interestingly, Chicago cabbies always need to have the destinations explained. Keep that in mind if you intend to get too twisted to speak.
Searching through the pits of Hades
Like a miner in the gloom
I seek out to find my babies
Don’t look back the warning booms
In my thoughts that warning shakes me
How can fate deceive me now?
I will think on worlds in order
I will make a solemn vow
Lose, lose, Lose your head
Lincoln Hall is a lovely place, showing the advantages of hiring good architects and designers (fuck YOU Bouffant) and I grabbed an open booth, even though I was solo. While I was ordering a first drink, I saw three folks, two of whom I knew were actually in the Mekons, come out to grab a table. But the only thing left was a tall two-top; so I asked the waitress to ask them if they wanted to switch, since I didn’t need a whole booth.
And that is how I ended up eating dinner with some of the Mekons. Sarah, bass player, and Ryan the sound guy, and Rico Bell came by later. Tom Greenhalgh stopped by but didn’t stay. But they are lovely people, and Sarah was adorably confused by ‘tater tots’. We talked about kids and past tours, and I listened as they talked about the musical life and my! didn’t we have a wonderful time?
The opening band was kind of a weird punk-spaghetti western instrumental band. They were OK. We all moved on.
One last glimpse to take back with me
Set my eyes, despite the fear
One last glimpse was all they needed
LOOSE THE MEKONS came the cheer
The Mekon live show is always weirdly balanced between kicking fucking ass, sucking large cylinders of suckitude, and onstage banter. And so it was a bit unusual that as they came out and filled up the smallish stage, Jon Langford instantly fucked up a joke about matchbooks and calling demons, and it was weird as hell to have such an incomprehensible joke was unusual. But what the fuck, they moved on and opened with Calling All Demons from the new album, and those of us on the floor did our part, fuck it.
They immediately launched into the yodeled intro of Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem, another favorite, and stomped the hell out of it before playing several new songs from Ancient & Modern . In particular, the song “I Fall Asleep” was lovely, featuring a vocal coda of Tom Greenhalgh and Sally Timms singing “I fall asleep when I should pray”, over and over.
Did I mention that Tom Greenhalgh joined them? One of the original members, and his warbly quavering tenor is a prominent voice in the band, lending an undisciplined vulnerability to much of the music and serving as effective counterpoint to Jon Langford’s gruff Welsh shouting. Tom doesn’t make it to America with the Mekons very often, so it was a rare pleasure to see and hear him.
Suzie Honeyman also doesn’t make the US tours very often; in fact, I am not sure I have ever seen her play, and I’ve seen the mekons 6 times prior to this.
Torn in two, and cut and scattered
Limb from limb and heart from mind
In the water hear me singing
As my head swirls in the brine
Lose, lose, lose your head
It was a Mekon start to a show, unplanned and not quite coordinated;not drunk, not angry, but not professional either in a profession where bands are supposed to hit the stage with a triumphal roar. The Mekons have always hated the strictures of Rock Bands. They always insisted upon egalitarian socialistic ideology. Every song was credited to the band: so were all the artworks. They were a punk band that actually followed through on the DIY ethos, and refused to allow Virgin to package them.
And in the ensuing years, the Mekons followed a path that defies description or pigeonholing. In fact, one of the most difficult and rewarding aspects of the band has been the diversity of their work. It can be a bit off-putting to listen to a band that has been unskilled, anarchist, alt-country, avant garde, folk, alt-rock, theatrical, back to punk again, touring art-show musicians, and whatever the hell “Pussy, King Of The Pirates” was.
At Lincoln Hall they definitely were playing the alt-rock cards in a big way, populating the small stage with 8 musicians and five lead vocalist mikes. I was standing on stage right, directly in front of Rico Bell and his chest-piano, and Suzie Honeyman looking like a possessed schoolteacher on violin. On the opposite side of the stage was the sepulchral Lu Edmonds, playing his saz.
The no rules approach to instrumentation and self-taught character of the songwriting, makes for an enthralling sound, if it also tends to allow for instant chaos if someone gets off-track. When combined with dense and literate lyrics, it results in an anarchic folk-punk socialist collective with a bookish bent and an abandoned career in stand-up comedy.
I will teach them from my lesson
I will teach them from my song
I will speak of all lives wonder
Where I land will be renowned
Yes, they are all bout teaching with song. At the same time they realize that being a punk band with no major label connections, the world is going to keep turning regardless; and that goddammit, we are gonna still keep tilting against those fucking windmills. Because sometimes the good fight is the only fight you need. Success is inconsequential, it is the tilting that makes the windmills run scared.
They know that making punk music will not change anything, and they still do it, because singing and howling into the darkness is the only thing you can do. If you are brave enough.
And; what they figured out, over the years and agony and travails; is that singing and making art and doing it with life-long friends is two sided: it allows you to stare into the void at the same time you celebrate living and drinking and fucking and music.
Where I land will be the fortress
Of this fight against the tides
Tides of rotten patriarchy
Tides of greed and tricks and lies
Lose, Lose, Lose your head
Middle of the show, they pulled out the stops on “Orpheus” the song that provides the lyrics in this post; recognizing the opening strains of the accordion, I howled in approval and when Rico started singing, knew that the night was going to be just fine. The song features traded vocals from all four vocalists: Rico, Tom, Sally and Jon, and the opportunity for the audience to join in on the “lose, lose, lose your head” parts and o my, did we ever. A group of four women in front of the stage center danced and sang along, and we kept the waitron busy resupplying us all with drinks.
The played for quite a while after that, coming back for two encores in spite of Sally’s complaints of weariness and early flights the next day. Reaching all the way back to 1985 for songs, the only minor complaint was that they did not play “Memphis Egypt”, one of my favorite songs. But as Tom sang “Curse of the Mekons” with his eyes closed and Sally helping him remember the lyrics, I knew that there was no need to quibble.
“Magic, fear, and superstition; this is the Curse of The Mekons.”
In a recent interview, Jon Langford and Sally Timms made the point that all the members of the band do a wide variety of other things, music and art and other things; but that what they do as the Mekons remains their favorite work. During songs like I Have Been To Heaven And Back, Space In Your Face, and (Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian, the band would play together like they were trying to drive away the darkness and doubt, pounding out primal melodies with whatever instruments fell into their hands. And when the show was nearing the end, as Jon Langford hugged Lu Edmonds warmly, stepped on Sally as she sprawled in front of the drum riser, and kissed Tom on the mouth, I realized they had indeed driven back the darkness and doubt even if only for a short time.
Also, I scored a loverly limited edition poster, signed by all the band:
And since vacuumslayer asked, this song makes me very happy when I hear it, even if I didn’t hear it at Lincoln Hall:
*(title lyric from Space in Your Face from the new album)
BONUS CRAPPY iPHOTOGRAPHY: