What it means to be in a rock band, or have a career, seems to have melted and fused into something older and freer for Jon Langford. The Welsh leader of original Leeds punks The Mekons lives in Chicago these days, and plays with The Waco Brothers, The Sadies and The Pine Valley Cosmonauts too. The Mekons’ dissident ethos, defined by Greil Marcus as songs starting “from the premise that the singer is oppressed by everything that is empowered”, suits the honky tonk blue-collar world he’s adopted with his new bands, and which The Mekons moved into with 1985’s raw-boned Fear And Whiskey. And, with all his different guises, Langford now seems to be in something more subversive, honest and hard to spoil than a rock act; a string of loosely linked musical activist cells so small that the empowered can’t even find them, let alone crush them.
The less po-faced reason for Langford’s continued relevance is his stated desire for his most regular current outfit, The Waco Brothers, to be the most extreme hard country band in the world, with bars as their natural home. That’s surely why the Borderline’s basement is soon packed so full of fans (middle-aged men, mostly) that there’s no room to do anything but stand. Stood in ranks, still and shadowy when the lights go down, they look like a frozen, forgotten punk army. And when The Waco Brothers follow turns from The Sadies and Mekon Sally Timms, the clouds of the real war in the Gulf soon inevitably rise to envelop us all. “Blink Of An Eye”, from current Waco LP New Deal, is a rowdy, Poguesy strum, slashed by electric guitars, but its power tonight is in its chorus, evoking a president who’s “just half a man, riding in some giant’s hand”, who will, they demand, be “gone, gone, gone, GONE, gone in the blink of an eye”.
Timms then returns, in the loose spirit of things, for the wistful “Seminole Wind”, before “AFC Song” states the night’s primal purpose?”Alcohol, freedom and a country song”. Then a man whose vision of riot rock The Mekons renounced early on is fittingly invited to join us. Langford enquires, “What would Joe Strummer have said?”?about everything happening in the world now, you think?then launches joyously into “I Fought the Law”. The song’s spirit of unbowed, outgunned defeat suits the men on stage as they strum and strut their mix of rock’n’roll’s old elements, of rockabilly’s beat and country’s steel twang, and swing their guitars at the ceiling, happy in their work. Beneath the bullshit corporations have heaped on it, this simple social pleasure is what the Wacos know rock’n’roll is for.