Pine Valley Cosmonauts & Friends – Double Door (Chicago, IL)
Jon Langford already answers to such honorifics as Mr. Mekon, Big Chief Waco, and Pine Valley party chairman. On this sultry Friday night, he added another: Master of Ceremonies. Though he led the Pine Valley Cosmonauts (a group that included John Rice on guitar and Steve Goulding on drums, among others), Langford ceded center stage to the guests he’d assembled to play songs from the recently released anti-death penalty album The Executioner’s Last Songs.
Sally Timms started things with a steady-rolling rock version of “Long Black Veil”, and Langford followed with Chris Ligon’s “The Great State Of Texas”, trilling his R’s all the way. Then he addressed the soundman — “You can turn all the guitars up now” — and called on Lonesome Bob to join him. “My Mother’s Husband” proved sturdy enough to withstand the assault of three electric guitars and 500 pounds of vocalists. Later Bob and Timms sang “The Plans We Made”, and Bob reappeared again for Johnny Paycheck’s “Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill)”.
Jenny Toomey offered an antidote to Bob’s booming delivery in tearing a page from the Cole Porter songbook. Though Toomey has lately been known better as an indie advocate than an artist, her graceful take on “Miss Otis Regrets” is the album’s best track; backed by violin, bowed bass, keys and subtle percussion, it was a live highlight too.
By way of bringing Timms back to the stage, Langford announced that a second Executioner’s volume is slated for release on Bloodshot next year. Among its cuts is a new version of Sally’s spooky Mekons number “Horses”, which was performed on this night with a mandolin solo by Drew Carson.
Next up was Paul Burch. Leading the full band — which now included Barcley McKay (ex-Pretty Things) on keys — he transformed the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan tune “Walls Of Time” into hurtling honky-tonk. Then Goulding folded his sticks, the band laid back, and Burch picked and sang a tune from his neo-classic disc Blue Notes, the delicate “Isolda”.
The reverie didn’t last. Joined by Timms and fellow Waco Brother Tracy Dear, Dean Schlabowske gave the Adverts’ punk nugget “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” the flying tackle it deserves. (His all-guts approach didn’t fare so well when he and Burch sang the trad classic “Knoxville Girl”, which came off as a duet between a songbird and a hacksaw.)
Langford ended the set with a squalling revision of “Tom Dooley”, styled after Steve Earle’s rendition on the Executioner’s disc. After an intermission just long enough to make certain that everyone’s Western wear was correctly creased and tucked and color-coordinated — black, natch — Langford, Goulding, Schlabowske, and Dear returned, joined by the rest of the Wacos crew.
The Waco Brothers promise only sweat, swagger and rock ‘n’ roll played at extreme volume, and they usually deliver. Maybe they were especially sharp from their recent studio work (a new album is due in October), or maybe, since they hadn’t played out much lately, they were spoiling for a fight. Whatever the reason, they brought the goods.
Recent Wacos records have been uneven affairs, but the band seems to have a nose for the good stuff: From WacoWorld, they cherry-picked “Red Brick Wall”; from Electric Waco Chair, “Where The Mighty Fall” and “Walking On Hell’s Roof Looking At The Flowers”.
Old favorites in the set included “Cowboy In Flames”, “Plenty Tough And Union Made”, and — naturally, with Lonesome Bob shouting along — “Do You Think About Me”. Also notable were a handful of cuts drawn from the forthcoming album. That material sounded like, well, roots-rock for revolutionaries, as played by middle-aged Englishmen out to prove they’ve got a good deal of piss and vinegar yet to spill.