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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeCelebrating 30 years as a band with a tour of "quiet nights in," the British-born post-punk mainstay The Mekons were almost all acoustic and sessile for a stop at the Pabst Theatre that used punk, reggae, country and folk elements to create a uniquely eerie performance more akin to a night around a campfire than a lively club stage.
While much of the set pulled from The Mekons' 2007 album Natural, which is their 16th full-length studio album and rests heavily upon a dark folk sound, the night included choice cuts from the band's extensive catalog, including the fittingly garbled vocals of Tom Greehalgh in the sodden punk of "Lonely and Wet," from their debut The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, and the powerful and clean harmonies of all the vocalists in the folkloric "Thee Old Trip to Jerusalem," from the 2002 release Oooh! Out of Our Heads.
"We're the only band that has been together for the whole 30 years of punk," said vocalist and guitarist Jon Langford, during one of many comedic interludes from the band between songs. "And that simultaneously makes us the best and worst punk band ever." As a bid for the former, only some of the material from the new album resembles The Mekons of albums past, namely the honky tonk tones that surround the hauntingly beautiful voice of Sally Timms in "The Hope and The Anchor," while the majority of the material is as relevant as ever, namely the minimal folk sound in "Dark Dark Dark" and the semi-upbeat reggae musings in "Cockermouth."
Unable to resist the fiery roots from which they sprung, the quiet night in turned a little bit rowdy toward the end, as leg kicks and spontaneous dancing began to erupt on stage. Ending the relatively tame evening with the hard driving blues of "Hard to Be Human Again," which featured Rico Bell on harmonica, Langford, after delivering a fiery guitar solo, would end the night laying down on his back and wildly kicking his feet about in the air-- a proper celebration of sorts for a band that continues to create interesting sounds under a punk rock aesthetic.
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