For the Mekons, who are entering their third decade as one of the world's preeminent postpunk bands, any recording session is as much an opportunity for a transatlantic reunion as a concerted effort to make great art. That said, their latest opus, Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick), is good. It's also arguably the most Mekons-like album they've made in years: since the mid-90s they've taken detours to write a book (Mekons United), collaborate with author Kathy Acker (on the multimedia project Pussy, King of the Pirates), and get jiggy (on 1998's Me), but here the Brits have gone back to putting their own special spin on American roots music, sort of like a modern version of the Band. Country flourishes, reggae grooves, and sing-along hooks blend seamlessly; Susie Honeyman's warm violin, Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh's scrappy and unobtrusive guitar playing, and Steve Goulding's peerless timekeeping serve as a sturdy platform for toe-tapping excursions featuring Sally Timms's seductive croon or Greenhalgh's charming croak. The subjects range from political apathy ("Tina") to bittersweet nostalgia ("City of London"), but as effective as the words are, they're secondary to the celebratory atmosphere of the live show. The band's performances last week at South by Southwest, riotous and booze-fueled as always, were dotted with moments of nonchalant musical brilliance--these days the Mekons are great in spite of themselves. Friday, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. Saturday, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berywn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.