Gary Louris/Mekons; March 27, 2008; Barrymore Theater
It was a tough decision, the Weakerthans at the High Noon, Dietrich Gosser at Café Montmartre or this show. I’d wanted to see the Weakerthans ever since listening to marathon amounts of their smarter than Fountains of Wayne pop in Michelle’s car, and any time I get to see Dietrich is a treat, but ultimately the memory of the Mekons’ laugh-so-much-it-hurts show at the Pabst last fall won out. For the second half of this interesting double bill, former Jayhawks leader Gary Louris took the stage with his backing band Vetiver. When Louris decided to make a stop in Madison, the local promoter gave him the choice of which bill he wanted to be on. I’m guessing Louris has seen the Mekons before.
Jon Langford is always an entertaining performer, whether playing with one of his numerous side projects or as the interesting half of the Waco Brothers, but it is with the Mekons that he really seems to let it all hang out. Sometimes a little too literally. Demonstrating more energy and endurance than I would have guessed he had, he danced like a maniac for the entirety of a song, somehow managing to not sound winded when he took a break from his hip hop inspired flailing. Not only were his quick moves on display, but also his quick wit. After Sally mentioned “mice in their embroidered waistcoats” (which has to be code for something), Langford claimed that he was going to have to go masturbate. While the comment made most of us uncomfortable, it caused one woman (who had to be about 50 and old enough to know better) to yell “I’ll help you!” Nonplussed, Langford quipped, “Mom? I told you to wait in the van.”
Just as they were in Milwaukee back in November, the band sat in a semi-circle on stage with a single microphone at the front of the stage. Langford claimed initially that it was a monument to a member who had died, but it soon became obvious that it was a spotlight area where a member could step forward to perform. In addition to Langford’s version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” Sally and Lou also stepped to the front. At one point the four men all moved to the mike while the women were dismissed. Sally of course refused to go, and could be seen covering her eyes for much of their overblown sing-along. As much as Langford was the amusement highlight, it is always Sally who is the vocal highlight, especially on the swaying “Wild and Blue.” Her perfect country voice, high and clear, is even more surprising given her salty mouth.
The Mekons are a tough act to follow, and I wasn’t sure Louris was going to be able to do it. In fact, I’m not sure he thought he was going to be able to either, but he surprised me with a solid set drawn from the Jayhawks decade plus career and his solo record. Assisting him in this mission was his backing band Vetiver, who was also his opening band on other stops. The Vetiver boys could have been the Jayhawks fifteen years ago, scruffy looking and totally adorable, and a killer band. Predictably, the crowd got most excited over the classics from “Tomorrow the Green Grass” and “Hollywood Town Hall” (always my two favorites) like the aching “Blue” and the hopeful “Waiting for the Sun,” while the newer material was less pedantic than it seems on CD.
Sure, those other shows would have been great too, but I recall a note I made to myself from the last show, never miss a chance to see the Mekons, especially when they are playing with someone like Gary Louris who beat the hell out of Danbert Nobacon.