Friday, June 6, 2008

On Board the Waco Express...

Everybody's on the bandwagon again
Get on board the Waco Express again
-- "Waco Express," The Waco Brothers

So I got outta the house on Thursday night to catch some live music -- Chicago's fabulous Waco Brothers (left) -- at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in DC. Doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to in the life of this writer -- but anything less than five nights a week in a dank club listening to loud music and chasing beers with shots of Jägermeister would represent a dip from mid-1990s alcohol consumption and hangover production levels at Byrne, Inc.

So seeing the Wacos the other night was a bit of a trip in the wayback machine. I was around the periphery of the band from very near their beginning in the mid-1990s, when Bloodshot Records was in its toddler stages and
Mekons ringleader Jon Langford created the Wacos as a alt-country side project with low expectations for anything but fun and a wee bit of PR for the Bloodshot gang's attempt to be the flagship of the roots country/anti-Nashville insurgency of that era.

Langford had already been messing with country music in the past as a Mekon (see the brilliant mid-80s records
Fear and Whiskey, The Edge of the World and Honky Tonkin') and with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, so it wasn't unfamiliar territory. The problem was, however, that the Langford and some of the folks he recruited for the project -- Dean Schlabowske from Wreck, Tracy Dear -- started writing original songs that were better than 98% of what the alt-country movement was churning out. Add in a superstar rhythm section of Steve Goulding (Mekons) and Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones) and round it all off with pedal steel player Mark Durante, and you had a veritable supergroup. The first two records -- 1995's To the Last Dead Cowboy and 1997's Cowboy in Flames -- are classics of the genre, and the studio records they've made since usually contain at least a few terrific songs.

But live shows are the Wacos' raison d'etre, and their current tour is in support of a new live record -- Waco Express: Live and Kicking at Schuba's -- which does capture the ferocity and fun of the group.

Thursday night's show did not disappoint, despite a shaky start as Schlabowske's mic kicked in and out on the opening song. By the fourth song, the Wacos hit a groove that didn't let up until the end of the night, dealing out covers (George Jones' "Girl at the End of the Bar" and "White Lightning"), originals (stinging versions of "Red Brick Wall" from Waco World and Tracy Dear's ode to a life of sin, "Take Me to the Fires") and some hilarious stage patter, including a Langford disquisition on the possibilities of a terrific but unnamed new president in the Oval Office that led to the following exchange:

Dean Schlabowske: Ron Paul?
Jon Langford: Yeah. Ron Paul George and Ringo.

Downloads, purchasing opportunities and other cool stuff can be found at the Wacos' page on the Bloodshot site. Their work is also available at e-music.

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