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If Arcade Fire are still touring in 2035, their After the Singularity Tour show will probably look at lot like the rowdy acoustic hoedown long-lived Leeds, U.K.-by-way-of-Chicago art-punk archeologists The Mekons’ played at IOTA last night.
Since 1977, various iterations of this band, which began its career satirizing contemporaries The Clash, have registered nary a blip commercially as they’ve waded from safety-pin punk to alt-country to cobwebby British folk. Still they command fierce loyalty from, um, people who feel fiercely loyal to them. Who, on the evidence of last night’s turnout, are mostly men, aged 45 and up.
“We’re just in from Chicago and we’re very tired,” growled group’s amiably red-faced leader, songwriter/playwright/illustrator Jon Langford, as the eight players folded themselves onto stools around the club’s tiny stage. Woooo! But what followed was a blurry-edged, high-spirited 90 minutes of perfectly imperfect music and banter that managed to be funny rather than precious. When Tom Greenhalgh went missing when it was his turn to sing, Sally Timms covered by telling us about the time Sir Elton John hit her with his white Rolls Royce. It had a punchline and everything. Perhaps the secret to stage banter-success is to speak with a British accent and be very old.
The setlist was primarily devoted to the group’s new album Ancient and Modern, which seemed to be unfamiliar to most of us. But a cozy club like IOTA is an ideal place to become acquainted with new songs, and the sound mix let us hear Rico Bell’s accordion and Susie Honeyman’s fiddle, for instance, rather than just the guitar and drums. (There weren’t any. Percussionist Lu Edmonds kept time on a wood box.)
“My pedal is stuck on the Motorhead setting,” Langford joked after the perfervid opening march, “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem,” after which followed an hour of mostly new stuff. One exception was the classic weeper “The Letter,” which Sally Timms appropriated beautifully from Greenhalgh, who sang it on the Edge of the World record way back in 1986, and who seemed to take the mike under duress each time he was summoned to sing, though sing he did, a new one called “I Fall Asleep” and the “(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian” to close the set proper.
After retiring to IOTA’s “backstage”—-the cramped street-facing corner of the bar where the talent remains in full view of the audience—-the octet returned to shut things down with a set of crowdsourced standards, “Wild and Blue,” “Heaven and Back,” “Shanty,” and “Hard to Be Human Again.” Then they stuck around to hawk merch and shake hands. I scored an apparently tour-exclusive CD of mediocre-quality live recordings called meTunes. On the back cover, it says “Musical performances have been reformatted to allow more banter.” On the front it says, “This is exactly how music will be distributed in the future.”