I’d made a point of telling Jon Langford that next time he came back he had to bring guitarist Jim Elkington with him. Not that I wouldn’t be happy having Langford all by himself, but I am a huge fan of the handsome and charming Brit, and he always sounds great playing with Langford. The plan up until that day was that Skull Orchard would be Elkington and violinist Jean Cook. He was doubtful at first, but Langford claimed Elkington’s baby situation had been solved with a series of nannies. It seems that mothers aren’t the only ones who get “baby brain,” and he backed out at the last minute. “You want to hear Jim?” Langford asked after giving me a copy of the new release, Here Be Monsters, “he’s all over the record.” As expected, once the show got started I didn’t miss him at all, Langford’s silliness and Cook’s dry humor were all the entertainment we needed.
I was pleased to be listed on the tour poster as “Kiki’s,” right after SXSW dates and before a whole series of shows across the country. Langford was also pleased to be playing a sold out show in Madison, “meanwhile there’s 347 tickets left for Sunday’s show at the Hideout.” Many of tonight’s songs came from the excellent new record out on In De Groot Records, a label he doesn’t quite know what to do with. “This next song was given out for free by my record label, ‘because that’s what the kids want, they want music for free,’” Langford scoffed, “Give music away for free? No problem, I’ve been doing that for 37 years.” The dark “Drone Operator” was released as a single by Bloodshot last year, but was lightened up by a video from Hassan Amejal, “it takes a Moroccan to make it a happy song.” “What Did You Do in the War?” also touches on themes of destruction, but also redemption. On record Tawny Newsome sings with Langford, but he and Cook sounded just as lovely, meanwhile its infectious melody has a comforting timelessness. The hopeless sounding “Mars” uses space exploration as a metaphor for unreachable dreams.
Throughout the show, Langford’s boisterousness was balanced by Cook’s faux boredom, his positivity by her resistance. “Jean says we can’t play this one by ourselves,” Langford claimed, while she explained “I didn’t say we couldn’t play it, I said it would sound weird without the band.” After asking us if we wanted to be a group, he taught us the sing-along chorus, complete with actions, “Beyond your reach, beyond your grasp, beyond your help,” and complimented us on our Welsh sounding accent and chair dancing. Despite the less that pitch perfect audience participation, I would say it went pretty well without the band. We got another chance to sing and dance later in the night on “Get the Money,” where the actions involve miming your mind fragmenting and pointing to your backside on the line “Don’t leave anything behind.” There were also songs that hadn’t gotten out of the house much. “I’m nervous,” Langford claimed, “we’ve never played this one before.” “We played it yesterday,” Cook countered. “Yes, but that was in my kitchen with the lyrics in front of me.”
I think it is safe to safe to say they had a great time. They took a break after an hour, and then came back to play another hour plus. After what seemed like a logical closer, Cook set down her violin. “What are you doing? We aren’t done yet.” It was a great night of stories as Langford gave us the unabridged version of every song’s history, I didn’t ever want it to be done.