Mekons related articles from CT pt.2

Greg Kot
Chicago Tribune(Copyright 1997)
Here's the essential difference between BR5-49 and the Waco
Brothers, two bands devoted to hillbilly country: BR5-49 tiptoe
around the grave of Hank Williams and lay flowers on the tombstone.
The Waco Brothers decapitate a whiskey bottle, crank up the guitars
and have a hootenanny on Hank's remains.

Williams has been dead 44 years, and his influence has not
been deeply felt in the Nasvhille music scene he helped create for
at least half as long. The dipped-in-blood terseness of his
emotional and musical language has long since been replaced in
mainstream country by a sound and sensibility borrowed from the
Hotel California of '70s pop and rock.

But over the weekend, Hank Sr. was an inescapable presence at
performances by the twang-core disciples in BR5-49 at Schubas and
the honky-tonk hooligans in the Waco Brothers at FitzGerald's.
Williams' gaunt visage was plastered on a black T-shirt sported by
the Wacos' Tracy Dear, and both bands performed his songs as well
as by contemporaries and immediate successors such as Johnny
Horton, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Mel Tillis and Webb Pierce.
But it was their approach to the Williams legacy that
distinguished the bands. The Wacos turned the Williams-like conceit
in "Wreck on the Highway" into a wreck in progress instead of a
mournful post-mortem, with Jon Langford's indignant cry of "I
didn't hear nobody pray" rising out from behind Steve Goulding's
tumbling drum pattern.
In contrast, BR5-49 sounded like they wanted more than
anything to be Hank Williams, or any of the numerous old-time
country stars whose songs they so reverently covered. When
guitarist Chuck Mead delivered "Lovesick Blues," everything was in
its place: the slight catch in Mead's throat, the near-yodel that
finished off every other line.
BR5-49 dress like thrift shop cowboys, doff their hats like
Grand Ole Opry troubadours and pass a beer pitcher in search of
tips--a shtick that made their debut EP, "Live from Robert's," such
a hoot. But that reckless, festive atmosphere showed up only
sporadically during the middle of three concerts.

There was deep sincerity in the group's performance, cut with
a touch of wry. Mead's vocals brimmed with an air of affectation,
which suited the syncopated inflections of the Horton jitterbug
romp "Cherokee Boogie," while Gary Bennett excelled at heartfelt
renditions of country ballads and waltzes. The rhythm section of
Jay McDowell and Shaw Wilson have an easy rapport that could have
kept two-steppers on the dance floor all night. Don Herron
demonstrated a bluegrass virtuoso's touch with his lightning breaks
on fiddle, mandolin, dobro and peddle steel.

The band borrows its name from an old "Hee Haw" sketch, and
they don't shy from the corn. One of their most popular tunes is a
PG-rated version of a phantom Andy Griffith episode, "Me 'n' Opie
(Down by the Duck Pond)," and they sprinkle their tunes with
contemporary pop-culture references. But there's a bit of museum
mustiness about this venture, a sense that the band not only plays
the music of 1955 but wants to live there as well. It needs more
originals along the lines of "Little Ramona," on which Mead yelps,
"Her punk rock records are gatherin' dust/Little Ramona's gone
hillbilly nuts."
Unlike the Nashville quintet, the Chicago-based Wacos--an
unlikely collection of closet honky-tonkers moonlighting from rock
bands the Mekons, KMFDM, Wreck and the Bottle Rockets--never
stashed their punk records, and it made all the difference. There
was glee when Langford kicked off the band's set with the anthemic
"The Death of Country Music," as if to declare the band's intention
to romp in the rubble. Singer-guitarist Dean Schlabowske is doing
just that, with a canny synthesis of Bo Diddley and Merle Haggard
on "Out in the Light" and other originals.
Dear's mandolin and Mark Durante's pedal steel now blend
easily with the hellfire electric guitars where once they were
drowned out, and the peerless rhythm section of Goulding and
bassist Tom Ray, subbing for Alan Doughty, kept the whirl of voices
and instruments from flying apart, particularly during a
thrash-metal version of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
The band also backed singer-accordionist Rico Bell in an
opening set drenched in country soul, ranging from a cover of James
Carr's "Dark End of the Street" to the heart-shattering original

Go to the top