Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 4 Reviews

Jon Langford's Ship & Pilot Band
Saturday, Oct. 2, 2:35 p.m.
Arrow Stage
Reviewed by Sarah Bardeen

Prolific country-punk innovator, founding Mekon and Welsh reprobate Jon Langford threw down with yet another of his many bands Saturday, bringing his maudlin songs of pedestrian despair to the Arrow stage. He shared vocal duties with violinist Jean Cook, whose sweet alto lightened his gruffness (though it was her violin playing that nearly stole the show, veering thrillingly between Americana and violent avant garde breakdowns). The set concentrated on tracks from his most recent release, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, which initially seemed a bit rock-heavy for a bluegrass crowd, though by the time he finished "Over the Cliff," the crowd was with him. The immortal line "It's hard to tell if life is a burden or a gift" must have done the trick.

Langford then teased the crowd, a portion of whom had clearly arrived hoping for some nostalgic Mekons action. As it turned out, fellow Mekon Rico Bell was there and slated to jump on stage later in the set. But first Langford played a handful of songs, including "The Country is Young," a thinly-disguised meditation on this country's disastrous habits and frustrating charm. He sang about Welsh trains and covered "Joshua Gone Barbados," a song which appeared on a 1983 Johnny Cash album and concerns a sugar strike in which the government sold out the workers "like they always do." They followed that with a song about John Huston filming Moby Dick in Ireland, which seemed like a joke but actually evolves into a sad commentary on Ireland's massive brain drain.

Bell then jumped onstage with accordion in hand and they sang the tongue-in-cheek Mekons song "I Love a Millionaire." The song must have put him in mind of George Bush and the upcoming election. Feelings on Bush? "What an amazing little monkey he is." The crowd wasn't fazed by that comment; there was scattered laughter and agreement. The band closed with "Are You an Entertainer?" off The Mayor of the Moon and "Nashville Radio," a vitriolic song that Langford was invited to sing, much to his surprise, at the Grand Old Opry. "Nobody will take the blame for Nashville, will they?"

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