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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jon Langford and Skull Orchard at the Thunderbird

Posted By on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 2:38 PM

The Mekons co-founder’s band played a loose, rollicking set last night, spotlighting songs from its new LP, Here Be Monsters (Bloodshot Records).

The five-piece group’s sound is basically folk songs through a punk filter — three chords and a cloud of dust, with country and blues inflections, often courtesy of Jean Cook’s fiddle and Bill Anderson’s lead guitar.

The band opened with the new “Summer Stars.” Langford’s wry, dark-humored lyrics frequently shone through, especially in the anti-war “Drone Operator”: “I’m like a god with a thunderbolt, sitting in a big white cloud … I’m a drone operator / I’m part of the team / I study my monitor / Wipe some dust from the screen …”).

Among non-album songs was the rather punk “1, 2, 3 Forever,” about Johnny Cash being fired by Columbia Records, which Langford garnished with an anecdote meeting Cash (in 1988, in Manchester, U.K.). Later, he regaled the smallish crowd of about 60 with another story, about somehow acquiring a pair of the late singer’s pants.

Other songs in the set included The Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town” and Langford’s own Waco Brothers’ tune “History is Written by the Winners” (“History is written by the winners / This is a loser’s song”).

Speaking of anecdotes, the Welsh-born Langford is nearly as entertaining between songs as during them. He might be the only performer, for instance, who’s ever said of the T-bird’s unique three-level seating area, “It’s like the British caste system.” He also amusingly recalled performing with Pittsburgh’s The Johnsons, a few of whom were in attendance.

Prior to the show, Langford even found time, between prepatory beers, to help carry a fan in a wheelchair up some stairs to the venue’s second tier, in front of the stage.

Langford is based in Chicago, and Skull Orchard is touring with Chicago’s Daniel Knox, who opened the evening on solo electric piano with a sort of post-punk cabaret set. Knox is a burly, bearded fellow with a deep voice who also brandishes a credible falsetto in drolly dark songs like one about coming back from the dead to haunt one’s acquaintances.

Another Knox tune gave the lie to Pittsburghers’ belief that they’re the only ones who give directions involving defunct landmarks; the Springfield, Ill., native prefaced his song named after a defunct chain store by saying, “When the Venture closed, we still called it ‘the Venture’ 20 years on.’”

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