Lester Bangs once described Mekons as “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.” Bangs had a point. Formed during Britain’s first wave of punk rock, Mekons are today the only group left standing. They endure by resolutely doing things their own way, and by refusing to adhere to anyone’s ideas regarding what is and isn’t punk rock (which is itself a defiantly punk attitude).
Many musicians have passed through the ranks of the Leeds-formed musical collective, but founding members Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh have been with the group since its inception (although Mekons did go inactive for a while in the 1980s).
The group’s politically charged 1979 debut, “The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen,” was released on Virgin Records to meager sales and lukewarm critical notice, but the group found its footing and released a long string of critically acclaimed albums on smaller labels. Mekons again scored a major label deal in 1989, releasing “The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll,” widely hailed as one of the era’s best albums by anyone. That record poked at U2 singer Bono’s budding messianic tendencies long before it became acceptable—much less fashionable—to do so. And “The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” served up the eclectic variety that has long characterized the band’s music: everything from folk to punk to hard rock to who-knows-what.
For their trouble, Mekons were once again without a label. But they would persist to this day; released in late March, “Deserted” shows that time hasn’t dimmed the fire and passion of Mekons one bit. “Lawrence of California” is as noisy and impassioned as ever, with a martial beat that evokes thoughts of fellow travelers and associates Gang of Four. Chanted, shouted vocals featuring longtime vocalist Sally Timms out front have an anthemic feel that would have fit neatly on “The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” three decades ago.
Yet Mekons are as timeless as they are timely. “Into the Sun / the galaxy explodes” is as catchy as anything the band has ever done, while “Mirage” is as prickly and angular as “Metal Box”-era Public Image Limited. And when the band slows things way down—as they do on “Weimar Vending Machine / priest?” —they display melodramatic art-rock tendencies that combine Legendary Pink Dots, the Doors and early sixties girl-group pop. But the group’s abiding fascination with and deep understanding of American country-and-western shines through most all its work; the melancholy “After the Rain” closes “Deserted,” and it’s a highly evocative synthesis of punk and country that sounds nothing like that description might suggest.
Mekons manage to be intelligent, thoughtful and passionate at once, and their concerts draw from throughout the group’s rich and deep catalog.
July 14, 8pm at Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia, (773)227-4433; $25.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. His more than 2,500 interviews, essays, and reviews reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues, and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s final album. His first book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd,” is due from Rowman & Littlefield in February 2018.