Fortunately, the band will save me a trip to New York by playing at the Iota Club and Cafe in Alexandria Va tonight. (Thursday October 6, 2011) The show is acoustic, but it's a distinctly electric experience anyway.
The band is legendary on numerous counts: (a) its longevity (the first lineup emerged in the punk aftershocks of 1977); (b) its bitter futile jousts with the record industry (a road littered with hopes raised and dashed, and records languishing unreleased for years); (c) its boozy live shows with cracking witty and sometimes cruel banter between singer/guitarist Jon Langford and singer Sally Timms; and (d) the messianic fervor in which the band has been held by critics (Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus) and fellow artists (Jonathan Franzen) alike.
It's been fun to watch the reception for the new Mekons record. There's always something terrific about hearing any new Mekons record, but to my ears, Ancient and Modern is one of the band's strongest efforts post-Retreat From Memphis (1994). "Space in Your Face" is one of the band's strongest songs ever -- a roaring stomp sung by Jon Langford that mashes up the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times Building in 1910 with some dark obsessive noirish romance. "Geeshi" is a complex, autumnal gem sung with a boozy world-weary ache by Sally Timms that wouldn't seem out of place with tunes like "Gin Palace" and "Prince of Darkness" on the band's 1987 classic The Mekons Honkytonkin'. The record moves from strength to strength -- the tender doom of "I Fall Asleep," with one of Tom Greenhalgh's best ever vocals; the sinister "Calling All Demons"; the shambolic pervy "Honey Bear" -- where sex and food and politics burst the song's seams.
So go see them tonight at the Iota Cafe. Or, as one of their early singles from 1978 so aptly put it, "I'll Have to Dance Then On My Own."
The Mekons show starts at 8 p.m. with opener Chris Mills. Tickets at the door are $16.