Jon Langford/Blake Thomas; April 24, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
It never hurts to ask. I wasn’t sure Renaissance man Jon Langford would be interested in doing a house concert, after all, he’s a man of many bands, not a solo artist. Even when playing Robbie Fulks’ Secret Country show at the Old Town School of Folk Music, he brought along Sally Timms and violinist Jean Cook. Still, when I e-mailed and asked if he would be interested in playing, he replied “Sounds great, when?” It wasn’t until a month or so later when we had picked a date that it hit me- Jon Langford was going to be in my basement. Very few of the people who have played intimidate me the way he does. It makes no sense, he’s been charming and friendly every time I’ve met him (none of which he apparently remembers), but still he makes me nervous.
I had nothing to worry about. Luckily my head didn’t explode (as I predicted when introducing him), and there was a good crowd and he had a great time. So great in fact, that he said he would come back anytime I wanted. He claimed that only recently had he begun to enjoy playing solo, and he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself tonight. Up until the part where he broke a string. “Oh no,” he deadpanned, looking down at his guitar. Turns out he wasn’t overreacting, he’d never broken a string on an acoustic guitar before. He finished the song and I volunteered Blake to change the string for him. This caused Langford to comment, “What a nice man,” and got us all giggling. Not that Blake isn’t nice, it was the “man” part that sounded so funny. In the meantime he picked up one of Blake’s guitars and continued the set. In fact, he liked Blake’s guitar so much that he finished the night with it and then asked if he could have it.
Since this was a Jon Langford show, not a Waco Brothers, or Mekons, or one of his many other bands, all of that material was available to him. Wacos' songs like “Blink of an Eye” and “The Death of Country Music” were interspersed with Mekons’ tunes like “I Love a Millionaire.” The latter, originally sung by Sally Timms, repeats the title over and over in a way that would have become monotonous if not for his hypnotic Welsh accent. Many of the songs were ones he had recently recorded or re-recorded with the Welsh Men’s Choir of Vancouver. He described them as being big, burly gray haired men, “virtually indistinguishable from me,” with voices like angels. He drew the crowd into a sing-along on “Are You an Entertainer?,” a guide to surviving on the road based on advice given to the young Mekons from Pere Ubu’s bass player Tony Maimone. What seems like common sense was probably necessary counsel. He walked us through the words by acting them out. “Get the money” had him rubbing his thumb and fingers together, “don’t leave anything behind,” as he pointed to his backside, “just some pieces of your heart, and fragments of your mind,” his fingers fluttering away from his head. He followed that with the ridiculously catchy “Nashville Radio,” which he introduced as being about the same thing, “only faster.”
“He’s a really good guitar player,” Langford had whispered to me during Blake’s set, “I’m going to get him to come play with me,” and he made good on that, bringing him up for the last several songs of the set, including “Entertainer” and “Nashville Radio.” Of all the people in the room, Blake is probably the one person who didn’t know any of these songs, but he followed along gamely, adding particularly beautiful guitar flourishes to the Skull Orchard song “Sentimental Marching Song.” For his own set, he hit the highlights of his three CDs plus a few new songs slated for the next record. In addition to the bluesy growl of “Tears in a Bucket,” he premiered his “power waltz,” a yet-unnamed tune that makes good on the promise of the unlikely genre. He started his set by mentioning that Bill had asked him at the beginning of the night how many times he had played a show in the basement. After mentally counting for a second, he announced that I should contact Jon Dee Graham and Anders Parker (who are currently tied at four appearances apiece) that he was actually the leader. It’s true, but with a talent this good in town, how can I not keep asking him to play?