Seeing my beloved Mekons live is always an energizing, heartening experience, full of laughter, clowning and high spirits, and it was so last night at Lincoln Hall. I love their bloodied-but-unbowed spirit, the glint in Jon's eye, their fierce good humor and absolute refusal to take themselves seriously. Though heavier now with years, when they sing and play you can see the young art-school punks they were in late-70s Leeds, the committment that saw them as dedicated champions of the UK miner's strike in the Thatcher 80s.
The banter between Jon and Sally kept us in perpetual stitches. Jon ribbed Sally about her outfit all night, replete with tie and skirt as it was. "Sally's an Albanian stewardess with Plummet Airlines," he proclaimed. Sally mimed a sexy fasten-your-seatbelts gesture around her waist.
It was good to have Tom Greenhalgh back in the fold. He wasn't with 'em the last time I'd seen them. I'd missed his scissor kicks on "I Have Been to Heaven and Back". Sporting a dashing bow tie, he sang crowd favorites like "Fletcher Christian". (And Mekons fans are a kick, as well, singing along with all the gusto of pub-goers standing on a table hoisting a pint, even getting a little pit going during the final numbers). He sang a lovely "I Fall Asleep" from the band's excellent new album "Ancient and Modern (1911-2011)".
One of the things I'd missed were the songs where Tom and Jon toss verses back and forth, almost like duelling guitarists. It was fun to have that back, and that little back-and-forth on "Hole in the Ground". Tom: "Do you really care anymore, Jonny?" Jon, descending: "Well I don't know if I do, I do, I do, I do, I do..." (He'd interjected a little "Who said that?" before the riposte.)
On "Orpheus", a song where almost everyone in the band gets a verse, the band and the crowd did a call and response on that great building chorus of "lose...lose...lose," finally climaxing together in a resounding, "LOSE YOUR HEAD!"
Sally sang a spirited version of the country classic "Wild and Blue".
Citing an early plane, during the encore Sally took her mic off its stand and lay down on the stage to go to sleep. "It's time for us to get back to the Assisted Living facility, you've had your money's worth," she proclaimed. Jon commenced to hop back and forth over her. She suddenly clutched her arm as though he'd landed on it, calling for a doctor and telling her bandmates to "bugger off" when they bent over her. "Are you acting, Sally?" Jon asked. Turned out she was--she hopped up with a big smile a few moments later and waved--but in the interim it was fun watching the guys' faces vacillate between concern and "oh, come off it".
Despite her protestations, along with the rest of the band Sally returned to the stage for a second encore and sang a beautiful "Ghosts of American Astronauts", the American political and historical landscape rendered as sublime, surreal dreamscape.
I'd always liked "Diamonds" off their last album, "Natural", as an album cut, but belted out live last night it became inspirational. "The reason for the voyage hasn't been forgot/the trail's not cold, the coals are hot/The crew draw back together, like magnets..." Along with a few favorite volumes in the knapsack, the Mekons on the music player are essential companions for the road ahead.
A few pictures, then. (Man, is my camera-phone ever shite.)
Tom, Jon, Sarah, Sally:
Rico in the foreground on accordion, suave as ever:
Susie on violin:
Lu on bouzouk:
Sally, looking coy: