October 3, 2007

I Saw The Best Rock & Roll Band In The World Tonight

That'd be the Mekons, and I wouldn't argue that they are TBR&RBITW these days, but they sure as hell were at the end of the 1980s. It'll take me a while to internalize the show, so this is more of a quickie introduction for those of you who are going "Cripes, what's old Jimmy on about now?"

I will say it was a sobering little experience. I mean the Mekons aren't an actual fulltime rock band now, but an ensemble which re-aggregates every once in a while for a quick tour to keep the franchise alive. This time they are pumping a new album, Natural.

The thing is that they performed the entire show sitting down on chairs arranged in a semi-circle, facing the audience. This kind of emphasized the fact that the tour also commemorates their 30th anniversary. They got together in Leeds in '77, part of the first flowering of Brit punk rock. Thirty years is a long fucking time. I have no idea who The Best Rock & Roll Band In The World is these days, haven't since Sleater-Kinney peaked almost a decade ago, but it's short odds that everyone in it was born after the Mekons were formed.

Oddly for a band whose good live shows have always outnumbered the bad 'uns by at least 2 to 1, the best YouTube clip I found to post here is not a live cut, but one of a few actual music videos the Mekons ever made. It manages to convey the sloppy intensity of the band's live shows.

Is it walking the walk of their literary Marxism, or their semi-anarcho approach to the world, or their secret desire to emulate the Grateful Dead? I dunno, but the band has apparently extended its blessings to fans and let them post a good couple dozen live shows as audio files for listening and downloading. To experience the Mekons at the peak of their powers, you might want to check out the version of "Amnesia" in this 1969 show. Just click that link. See the light gray box at the top of the big window? Scroll down to cut 13 and click on it. Should stream right out of your computer's speakers.

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October 2, 2007

John Mellencamp: "Jena"

I can't figure out how to mount John Mellencamp's new song about the case of the Jena 6 here, as I've done recently with stuff which people have posted on YouTube.

So you'll just have to take my word. You really want to click on this link and watch the video and listen to "Jena." In fact, you want to listen twice. It was just posted today, almost as soon as the video was finished (though the album it's on won't be released for a while yet). A lot of people will be trying to stream it and the second iteration should be smoother.

I go back and forth on John Mellencamp a lot, but alway wind up at the same conclusion. No matter how much the sentimental dishonesty of a "Small Town" or the flaccid bombast of, say, "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." may irritate me, sometimes he nails an idea or a feeling so hard that you think it'll never move again.

Though he's rightfully noted by lefties for his class consciousness and material support to striking workers and family farmers, I find his work most interesting when he tackles race in this country. And not just the obvious stuff. "Pink Houses" should be required listening in any study group session about why there's no mass revolutionary movement in the US. And sometime check out his arrangement of the Drifters' momentary escape from the city, "Under the Boardwalk" which he transports directly to the rural Midwest on mandolin strings and a loose chorale. Brilliant.

But enough on ol' John's strengths and weaknesses. Go listen to "Jena."

Oh, yeah, he has superb taste in album titles.

[h/t Rock 'n' Rap Confidential email list]

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