Jon Langford: The Executioner’s Last Songs

Jan. 21 — “The Executioner’s Last Songs,” which Jon Langford performed Friday and Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, is a mix of concert, staged reading, performance art and video projection. Nothing too pretentious, thankfully… Despite the title, only a small part of the show (the last section) is about Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts recording their anti-death-penalty albums.

For the most part, it’s Langford talking about growing up in Wales, going to art school, discovering punk, forming the Mekons, coming to the U.S. and meeting Lester Bangs, etc. etc., eventually discovering country music via the Chicago WZRD deejay Terry Nelson (who was in attendance for the MCA shows)…

The music was a mix of Langford solo stuff, the Mekons, Wacos, PVC, covers (Tom Jones’ “Deliliah,” introduced as “the Welsh national anthem”). It was kind of interesting hear Langford play “Memphis, Egypt” and throw in a spoken interlude explaining the story behind some of the lyrics — concerning a trip to East Berlin, where they found it impossible to buy any Communist souvenirs.

When I saw this last year at SXSW, it was just Langford, Sally Timms and the violinist Jean Cook, with Langford doing almost all of the reading.

This time, he had those two, plus Tony Maimone playing an odd banjo bass, a drummer (sorry, can’t remember who off the top of my head)… and some of the others, mostly Timms and Cook, did some of the reading.

Highlights included some clips from the aborted TBS kids show that starred Langford as “The Salty Old Sea Dog,” a pirate inside a tiny boat inside a bathroom sink reciting nonsensical poetry. (The show also featured “Cowboy Sally.”)

Anyway, it was all pretty fun, though it did go on a bit long. And the MCA theater is one of those venues that has good sound and sightlines but feels a little too staid for a rock concert.

This was more polished than the version I saw last year, but some of the best moments were the mistakes and ad libs… such as when Timms egged Langford into pretending he was Russell Crowe.