My photos of the Waco Brothers — as fun and lively as ever — on Saturday, May 21, at Wire in Berwyn. Click here for a separate gallery of photos of the other band that played Saturday at Wire, the Sadies.
During their first decade together (1995-2005), the Waco Brothers cranked out seven studio albums. But then, seven years went by without a new record of original Wacos material. That’s not the say the band disappeared. They’ve kept on playing lots of gigs (in Chicago, anyway). Jon Langford and other members of the band have continued making music under other guises. But no new Wacos songs. Until now.
The new record on the Bloodshot label is not just by the Waco Brothers — it’s by the Waco Brothers and Paul Burch. And the Wacos aren’t merely serving as the backup band for Paul Burch, an alt-country crooner. It’s more like Burch has been recruited as an auxiliary Waco, singing and writing most but not all of the new songs. And a fine bunch of new songs it is, kicking off with the title track, “Great Chicago Fire,” co-written by Burch and Langford. The song’s opening line turns a famous quote by Johnny Rotten — “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” — into a memorable melodic hook.
The Wacos and Burch celebrated their new album with a gig Thursday (April 26) at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, and the new songs survived the ultimate test, fitting right in with the old tunes that are longtime audience favorites. Burch fit right in, too, standing in the middle of that long line of microphone stands. The Wacos already had an abundance of lead singers (Langford, Dean Schlabowske and Tracy Dear, not to mention bassist Alan Doughty, who often jumps into the fray with backup vocals). But why not add another? The Wacos’ attitude seems to be, “the more, the merrier.”
The Chicago bluegrass band Tanglewood opened for the Waco Brothers with a set highlighted by their cool cover of the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s a song that Paul Burch covered back in 2007, when he opened for the Mekons at the Mutiny.
You can always count on the Hideout to get behind a good cause. Within days after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, the Hideout put together a benefit show to raise money. Two of Chicago’s stalwart bands, Eleventh Dream Day and the Waco Brothers, played rousing sets Monday at the club, raising almost $8,000 for Partners in Health. Sally Timms of the Mekons was one of the key organizers of the event, which also featured a bake sale and a bake sale organized by My Vegetable Blog and a poster sale by Kathleen Judge of Judgeworks. If you didn’t make it to the sold-out show, you can still help out by buying one of the posters shown here. (Poster sale proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders and Partners and Health.)
Eleventh Dream Day played first, delivering the sort of hard-charging rock we’ve come to expect — including three songs that have not yet been released, “Satellite,” “More Than Luck” and a tune with the phrase “Fades Away” in the chorus. All sounded like they’ll be great additions to the EDD catalogue — whenever the band gets around to recording them. It was also cool to hear EDD playing music from its classic album Beet.
The Waco Brothers did their thing, and they did it very well. They’re easy to take for granted, since they play so often and since they make it all look so easy, but they’re about as much fun to watch as any group in Chicago. Hideout owner Tim Tuten was absent (working at his day job in Washington, D.C.), but Jon Langford read a few text messages from Tim aloud to simulate a classic Tuten introduction. And then the Wacos kicked their way through several of their best-known tunes and favorite covers, including Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” and the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” Bassist Alan Doughty accidentally knocked out the venue’s trademark Christmas lights, which adorn the ceiling, when the lights got tangled up in his bass. Near the end of the show, Langford asked the crowd, “How late do you want us to play? We’ve got to wake up early and overthrow the government.”
Yet another benefit for a musician without health insurance. Yet another reminder of what an awful system (or lack of system) we have in the United States for making sure everyone gets the health care they deserve. This time, it was Waco Brothers drummer Joe Camarillo, who was recently injured in a car accident.While Camarillo recuperates, some of his musical pals teamed up for a benefit show at the Hideout. I missed the headlining final set of the night by the Wacos (I can only blame sleepiness for my early departure), but caught three wonderful performances.
First up was Scott Ligon, accompanied by Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor. They’d recently played a series of shows at Davenports, a venue for cabaret music. Now, this is an interesting development, because I’ve been thinking for a while that the music of Hogan and Ligon would appeal to a lot of people outside the “alt-country” niche. People who like Norah Jones, vocal jazz or plain old Great American Songbook music would find a lot to like in the songs they’re doing, both originals and interpretations of classics and obscurities. When Hogan made those live recordings at the Hideout a while back (whatever happened to that album???), I thought the jazz critics should have been there to hear it. Anyway, at tonight’s gig, Ligon was the ringleader, playing some really, really nice originals, side by side with songs by Brian Wilson and Hoagy Carmichael, with Hogan and O’Connor adding truly beautiful harmonies.
Most of the same musicians stayed onstage for the next set, by O’Connor — more vocal beauty was in store. It just made me long for her to put out another album. She became a mom recently, so parenthood may be her priority for the moment, but I’d love to hear another recording from her.
Next up was yet another Jon Langford band/project. Does this guy ever go to sleep? This latest venture is a duo called the KatJon Band — Langford plus drummer Katrin Bornfeld of the Dutch band The Ex. I’m not familiar with the music of The Ex, but this set certainly got me interested. Kat’s an amazing drummer, playing lively and complex rhythms that sounded almost like a marching band at times. She played with a calm demeanor as if she were barely exerting herself, often breaking out into a smile or smirk. Her drumming brought out some sides of Langford’s guitar playing that I haven’t heard too much recently — more aggressive and edgy than the typical rhythm guitar he plays with most of his other bands of late. They played an interesting set of music, including songs by the Mekons, Ex and Three Johns, plus a George Jones cover. It was one of the best Langford performances I’ve seen in the last few years.