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Live review: Mekons offer a lesson in survival

July 27, 2009 | 11:54 am

MEKONS_5_

There are life-altering concerts: the Beatles on a rooftop, Bob Dylan goes electric, the Sex Pistols call it quits, etc. Or so goes the myth.

And then there are Mekons concerts. The Mekons don’t promise life-altering. No, the Mekons provide something far more relevant: perseverance.

More than 30 years on, the punk rockin', honky-tonkin' melodic art collective continues to pass through genres as if they're baseball cards, moving through styles with equal parts reverence and carelessness.
Last night at McCabe’s, the Mekons were every bit as childish and fearless as their reputation (the band plays again tonight at the Echo).

There was lead singer Jon Langford, breaking into a bit of the Riverdance at the end of what is perhaps the friendliest ditty about the Armageddon ever written (“Cockermouth”), and there was secret weapon Steve Goulding -- you know him better for the striking reggae rhythm on “Watching the Detectives” -- making the best of stage confines with a box drum.

Instead of a guitar solo, the Mekons have Susie Honeyman's violin, and an accordion becomes the unlikeliest of mood setters, courtesy of current Angeleno Rico Bell. Bassist Sarah Corina is the quietest of the lot, and she slinks through Caribbean rhythms and bar room socialist anthems without any fuss.

Watching the Mekons, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the eloquent vocals of Sally Timms, or the comfortably hilarious banter she enjoys with Langford -- the title of 1980's "Devils Rats and Piggies, a Special Message from Godzilla" was all her idea, she swears, generating looks of resigned protest from Langford. But sticking together for 32 years on the fringes of obscurity isn’t easy, and there are lessons to be gleaned from taking in the Mekons. 

There's big picture stuff, such as government secrets and coded messages in the dreamy "Ghosts of American Astronauts," or the balance of idealism and a paycheck in working-class lullaby "Dickie, Chalkie and Nobby." Set opener "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" was a rousing shout-along anthem, walking the line between salvation and inebriation with Honeyman's violin creaking like a busted salon door. 

Worldly topics, but the Mekons bring it back home, balancing survival and desperation. Bell's accordion skidded around Langford on "Big Zombie," where one is so lost in the big city that he may as well stay home and eat cat food. "Last Dance" and "Beaten & Broken" should come with free pints, as they turned avoidance into revelries (sadly, vocalist/guitarist Tom Greenhalgh, who perpetually sings with a drunken casualness even when sober, was absent, dealing with a family issue, Langford said).

Tonight at the Echo, the Mekons will be plugged in, and Goulding will undoubtedly have a full drum kit. The electricity will be there, but the power was never absent. Performing as a seven-piece -- aided by multi-instrumentalist Lu Edmonds -- the Mekons swap traditionalism with folk instrumentation.

They may have traded in the boots for sandals in their more light-hearted old age, yet they remain a band that needs little more than a foot and a wooden floor to create a stir.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: The Mekons will perform tonight at the Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., with the Pulsars, Bollweevil and the Trumfio Trio. Tickets are $14, and available in advance on TicketWeb. Credit: Todd Martens

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