A few weeks ago I was coerced into going to to see legendary post-punk outfit the Mekons by a good friend of mine who demanded I witness the band he calls “the originators of the alt-country movement” live.
To say that gig left me flabbergasted is perhaps something of an understatement, not only because the band managed to squeeze more musicians on stage at Le Pub than I’d ever have thought humanly possible (is that really Lu Edmonds hiding behind in the darkest recesses I wondered?…yes it is), but also not really knowing any of their songs I was enthralled by the band’s ability to mix up genres for the sake of a great tune, and which only showed the merest touches of alt-country if truth be told, so much so in fact, you could call me something of a convert. Not that the band really needed me, as fans of the band had long since sold out the gig travelling from all over the country and indeed the globe (fuck you flat earthers) to witness Jon Langford leading his band out on his home turf.
You see although the Mekons are hailed as a Leeds based band, by way of Langford’s adopted home of Chicago, he is still very much a Gwent boy at heart, and someone who up until a few weeks ago, I knew much more about as an artist, than I did as a musician.
This was all about to change for me though when I picked up a copy of ‘Deserted’ the 9 track album the band were promoting on that recent UK/Euro tour. This is an LP recorded on the fringes of Joshua Tree National Park to maximise the band’s creativity and the thing that hits me straight between the eyes is just how many of the tracks off this album they played live I actually remembered. No mean feat for a bunch of songs I’d only heard once before I’m sure you’ll agree.
‘Lawrence Of California’ which open the album is one such tune, a folky fiddle driven number that has more than just a hint of a drunken night on the tiles about it. Langford’s buzzsaw guitar and doubled vocals (with his vocal counterpoint Sally Timms screaming her lungs out) all underpinning this very strong call to arms. Likewise, the Tom Greenhalgh hollered ‘Harar 1883’ which follows vividly stuck in mind not least because it was such a shift into almost Keith Richards songwriting territory that it almost knocked me bandy live.
With repeated listens I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to pigeonhole ‘Deserted’, which I mean in every sense in a good way, the band genre hopping all over the place and essentially writing and playing the music they want to hear.
Personal highlights for yours truly include ‘Into The Sun’ which kicks some serious butt in an almost B.A.D kind of way, whilst ‘In The Desert’ drifts through your mind like some Gabriel-esque soundtrack moment and acts as an almost perfect juxtaposition musically to the way too piratey for my tastes ‘How Many Stars’ which it follows on the album. Elsewhere there are elements of Berlin-era Bowie evident during the frankly bonkers-brilliant ‘Weimar Vending Machine’ and finally, I do get some alt-country in the shape of the staggeringly beautiful ‘After The Rain’ which closes out the album.
That a band as creatively magnificent as the Mekons are almost hidden away from the mainstream means that you can still see them live for less than ten pounds, the music they deliver here on ‘Deserted’ however really is priceless. Make sure you don’t miss out on this absolute gem of an album, it’s well worth making that musical leap of faith for…trust me.
Buy Deserted Here
Author: Johnny Hayward