Waco Brothers – Mekon delta blues
A few years back, rock n roll survivor Jon Langford transplanted himself from Leeds, England, to Chicago for love and money. His past and present band, the Mekons, have been around for more than 15 years and occupy a musical and cultural realm somewhere between that of the Clash and the Pogues, their bohemian-socialist rants playing against a backdrop of reggae/country/Irish-inflected punk-rock.
An indirect result of Langfords relocation is Chicago’s #1 Wasted Swing Band, the Waco Brothers. Theyve been picking up speed the last couple of years and have expanded their sound since an auspicious debut at the infamous Rainbow Club. The Wacos also honed their chops as the house band at Augenblick, but the cops kept threatening to shut the joint down. This resulted in some of the most intense, loud and drunken unplugged gigs in Chicago this year. Joe Strummer only wishes he could have this much fun playing music at his local pub.
The Waco Brothers began as a modest tribute to Johnny Cash and have evolved into a tough punk band playing the electric folk music of white America. This means COUNTRY MUSIC, yall not the cartoon version, but the real deal: songs about death, alcohol and heartache mostly influenced by the original gangsta rapper himself, Hank Williams. (Senior, that is.) The Wacos repertoire includes old-time odes to socialism and atomic power, Mekon faves, lots of yodeling, and songs by Cash and Williams as well as Jimmy Cliff and John Anderson. These are rockin tunes sung with real humor and conviction: While the Waco Brothers may not take themselves too seriously, their respect for traditional American music is heartfelt.
Drummer extraordinaire Steve Goulding (Mekons/Rumour/Poi Dog Pondering) and bassist Allan Doughty (Jesus Jones) compose a severely swinging rhythm section. Tracy Dear on mandolin and Dean Schlabowske on guitar flank their leader on stage to round out this thinking mans bar band.
Langford, meanwhile, seems to be a creative phenom at his peak. As well as Mekons gigs and recordings, he writes and draws the weekly rock comic strip Great Pop Things, and has recently completed playing and mixing as well as providing the cover art for fellow Mekon Sally Timms fantastic solo CD To The Land Of Milk And Honey. Langford and Dear also recorded a disc of Cash songs, Misery Loves Company, that was released recently in Germany. And he fronts a supergroup side project called The Killer Shrews with guitar slinger Gary Lucas and Pere Ubus Tony Maimone.
He has also become the Godfather of the Insurgent Country scene blossoming in Chicago, helping to legitimize a whole slew of unknown musicians. Local honky-skronk bands such as the Handsome Family and Iggy Yokum, as well as country legends like the Sundowners, all thrive in their affiliation with Langford.
The Waco Brothers are prominently featured on For a Life of Sin and Hell-Bent, both excellent insurgent-country compilations on Chicago’s Bloodshot Records. The band also has a custom-made 45 available, Bad Times Are Coming Round Again/The Harder They Come, and a full length CD, To The Last Dead Cowboy, due out this month.