Hideout Block Party; September 24, 2011; The Hideout
My original plan had been to stay with Ha Ha Tonka until DeKalb, but once I found out Jon Langford would be performing at the Hideout Block Party with the Burlington Welsh Men’s Choir it was obvious I would have to skip the House Café. It wasn’t the first time I had ditched them for Langford, and it wouldn’t be the last. I’d heard a lot about the choir after the recording of Skull Orchard Revisited, the excellent re-working of the first Skull Orchard record which comes packaged with a book featuring Langford’s artwork and stories about growing up in Wales, but I never expected to see them live.
For a large group of men they are surprisingly understated, and the record never feels choir-y. Even as they took up half the stage, they never overpowered the band, and I was pleased to see David Nagler, the genius behind the arrangements for Chris Mills’ The Silver Line, directing them. The rest of the band was no less noteworthy, Sally Timms and Tawny Newsome on backing vocals, Joe Camarillo on drums, Alan Doughty on bass and the talented and handsome Jim Elkington on guitar. Despite all this talent, the real star of the show in my mind was Langford’s stunning suit. The mysterious black material shone and shimmered in the afternoon sun (which by the way, wasn’t even supposed to be there, an 80% chance of rain had been predicted all week) and it was hypnotic.
The suit wasn’t the only amazing thing; the music was also pretty spectacular. Quite simply, this may be the best show I have ever seen from Langford and company under any name. The set was heavy on the old/new songs, but also included selections from last year’s excellent Old Devils. One highlight was the sing-a-long murder ballad “Delilah” with Sally Timms playing the victim. If Langford was a fashion horse, Timms was something quite different. Her almost matching skirt and top were complimented by fuzzy Viking helmet complete with horns and built in blonde braids.
Skull Orchard Revisited is a great record that should not be overlooked as simply a re-recording. Its packaging with a book, while inspired and quite cool, has probably kept it from being as widely heard as it might have been had it been released the traditional way. I don’t know how he found the Burlington Welsh Men’s Choir (they aren’t even from Wales, they’re from Canada) but they add so much. We even got a chance to hear them do a couple of their own songs. I definitely made the right call skipping Dekalb.
Langford with the choir was the reason I was there, but that wasn’t all the music there was. It started at noon, and we had already missed three bands by the time we arrived for Booker T. Jones. Yes, that Booker T, and yes he did play “Green Onions,” as well as a bunch of other familiar music. Following Langford was another legend, Mavis Staples, of the Staples Family Singers. She has a truly great voice, but I found myself getting a little bored until she invited Andrew Bird and his violin onstage for a rousing cover of the Band’s classic “The Weight.” It was a little less sloppy than Trapper Schoepp and the Shades version the night before, but no less enthusiastic. Bird finished out the night with a terrific set that included selections from all his solo records, as well as several promising new tracks slated for the next release. The best part however was the special guests. Bird’s Bowl of Fire band had just achieved the perfect line-up, as demonstrated by the excellent release The Swimming Hour, when he broke up the band and ventured into solo performance using samples and looping. I miss that band. Tonight was sort of a mini reunion, with chanteuse Nora O’Connor and drummer extraordinaire Kevin O’Donnell joining the band for several numbers. Oh yeah, and to start the show there was a giant bicycle driven whale that sounded a lot like Bird's violin.
What a day, it was worth suffering beer lines a mile long, before they eventually ran out, and overflowing Port-a-Pottys for.
Booker T. Jones
Jon Langford & the Burlington Welsh Men's Choir
Mavis Staples with special guest Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird with special guest a giant whale