Pine Valley Cosmonauts & Friends – Old Town School Of Folk Music (Chicago, IL)
The title of this four-hour, 34-song marathon was long and sprawling, just like the event itself. Jon Langford was the host of “The Pine Valley Cosmonauts & Friends In Concert To Benefit The Wales-San Francisco-El Salvador Educational Initiative: The Las Colinas Project.”
The benefit raised over $5,000 to help build a school in the poverty-stricken village of Las Colinas, located in the province of Sonsonate in El Salvador. The project was spearheaded by Langford’s friend Titch Jones, who owns Dylan’s Pub in San Francisco. The pub has a soccer team, and its coach, Amilcar Mayen, hails from Las Colinas.
The concert began with a few acoustic numbers sung in Spanish by Carlos Ortega, the frontman for Chicago band Casolando. Accompanied by bass and drums, Ortega concluded his set with “La Vida”, a hypnotic original tune.
Then the Pine Valley Cosmonauts took the stage and served as the backing band for a parade of roots-music guest stars. Lending a hand were several musicians from Langford’s other two bands, the Mekons and the Waco Brothers. Accordionist Rico Bell bellowed John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” with a ferocity that gave this rock classic a surprising air of freshness and vitality. A loping take on “Nine Pound Hammer” featured Dean Schlabowske on lead vocal as well as the driving, dual mandolins of Drew Carson and Tracey Dear. Vocalist Sally Timms ratcheted up the energy level with a twangy version of the Mekons’ “Millionaire”. Throughout the night, drummer Steve Goulding put on a percussive clinic that showcased his versatility.
The typically staid Old Town listening room was transformed into a rollicking honky-tonk by Rosie Flores’ greasy, rockabilly/surf cover of “Country Boy”, which dates back to Johnny Cash’s Sun years. The dynamic and underappreciated Paul Burch was joined by Kelly Hogan and his Lambchop cohort Deanna Varagona on the raucous “13 Nights”. Langford, a Welshman who cannot seem to exorcise his Tom Jones fetish, forced the crowd to stand for both “Delilah” and “Green, Green Grass of Home”.
The concert train was rolling along nicely until one of the conductors showed up hazy. Judging from all the camera flashes that greeted his entrance, many in the audience were there to see Ryan Adams. The former Whiskeytown leader described himself as being “a little toasted” and vowed, “I better quit smoking pot before I play.” A fidgety Adams opened his set with a compelling piano ballad, possibly called “Oh Charles”, that he claimed to have written in the dressing room only moments beforehand. Say what you will about the man’s derivative songwriting, but few artists of his stature are willing to do something that brave.
Adams focused on material from last year’s Heartbreaker, his solo debut. “To Be Young”, “My Winding Wheel” and “Come Pick Me Up” all retained their potency in this solo setting, thanks to Adams’ remarkable sense of melody. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” was marred by some rudimentary harmonica wheezing, and “Sweet Lil Gal” got bogged down by a tedious tempo.
Reading from his forthcoming collection Poetry And Other Poems, author Neal Pollack offered scatological verse that offended some and amused others. One poem asserted that pages from numerous novels (including those penned by Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, and John Updike) should be used as toilet paper. Parodying the pretentiousness of aggressive performance poets, Pollack also proclaimed that his own pants offered validation of the rumor that Jewish males are well-endowed.
The poet generated more laughs by introducing Rosie Flores with a long, biographical essay on actress/choreographer Rosie Perez. Returning to the comedic well a second time, he introduced Ryan Adams by recounting all the hit songs and music videos of Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. Pollack is currently recording a spoken-word album with backing music by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts.