A role as a Mekon isn't necessarily the greatest lot for a rock 'n' roller. Now into Decade No. 4, the Mekons have consistently been critically adored and commercially ignored. Multiple major-label deals have come and gone, and the luxury of quitting a day job -- or not having to make ends meet by scraping together multiple projects -- is one a Mekon has never really known.
Worse still is the nagging knowledge that multiple acts who came of age in the punk and post-punk scenes of the late '70s and early '80s have recently found new audiences. Artists such as Mission to Burma, PiL, which counts a Mekon as a member, and Gang of Four, which once had a Mekon, have all done the reunion circuit, benefiting either from festival stages, constant reissues or newfound idolization.
And the Mekons? The act's label for the last decade and a half, Touch and Go, was recently downsized into little more than a catalog-only operation.
"We’ve been saying we should pretend we’ve split up and then re-form," Mekon co-founder Jon Langford said this week from his Chicago home. "That seems to be the way to generate a lot of cash. You just need to take a couple years off. We’ve always been stupid enough to keep doing this. We believed our own hype, that anyone can do this and you don’t need to take any notice of the market forces."
If the Mekons members had, they likely wouldn't have jettisoned their late '70s punk rock sound for multiple decades of genre-hopping experimentation. The Mekons were playing with synths and pre-industrial dance sounds in the '80s, and then writing country records by the end of it. They scored a book, staged a performance-art concert in which everything was on backing tapes, and often wielded a violin as if it were the lead guitar.
When Langford, a native of Wales and a Chicago resident of 18 years, comes to the Los Angeles-area this weekend for a pair of shows -- a Saturday night appearance at Santa Monica's McCabe's and a performance Sunday at Hollywood's Amoeba Music -- he'll be doing so in more of a singer/songwriter guise. His "Old Devils," released this month by Chicago's Bloodshot Records, is a folk-rock effort that confronts aging, regret and the false romance of a life as an artist. It tackles it all with Langford's conversational, charmingly self-deprecating tone.
Think of it as the grown-up musical bookend to Nick Cave's recently issued sophomore album with his Grinderman project ("Grinderman 2"). Cave's effort is menacing -- an album devoted to late-in-life recklessness. Langford's effort is the sobering, country-tinged wake-up call. Characters are "overworked, overwhelmed, over here and over it all," and the narrator in the quiet lament "Luxury" is haunted by past mistakes. A "disposable income and weakness for drinking have disposed of me," Langford sings.
"That song," said Langford, "is like the invention of the teenager, and the myth that everything will get better and better. For me, I was growing up in the '70s and saw my friend’s hipster parents having wife-swapping parties and leopard-skin sofas and moving to Australia or South Africa for a better life. I remember those days fondly. It’s sympathetic. People were sold something, the belief that there was a better life."