Home Live Review Live Review: Waco Brothers @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 6/20/23

Live Review: Waco Brothers @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 6/20/23

Live Review: Waco Brothers @ Pearl Street Warehouse — 6/20/23
Waco Brothers (Photo courtesy the band)

“People don’t understand the union movement,” Jon Langford, leader of Chicago alt-country rockers the Waco Brothers, told the audience at Pearl Street Warehouse on Tuesday evening.

Introducing “Plenty Tuff/Union Made,” he spoke of people fighting and dying for things we now take for granted, like the vote and the weekend. “It wasn’t Prince Charles,” he said of the recently crowned monarch of his native United Kingdom. (Langford was born in Newport, Wales.) “It wasn’t the racist founding fathers.”

An unabashedly political band, the Waco Brothers find common ground in the working-class themes of punk rock and traditional country. Long associated with the indie label Bloodshot Records (which recently came back from the dead), they were one of the bands that spearheaded “insurgent country.”

Langford moved to Chicago in 1991, following his partner after she graduated from college in France. The longtime frontman for the Mekons, who has numerous solo and side projects, has become a tentpole of that city’s music scene. The Waco Brothers were literally formed as a bar band in 1994, with the express purpose of playing in the city’s clubs — and getting free beer. Like any true Brit, Langford is a man who loves his alcohol. 

The Waco Brothers don’t tour often, and, when they do, they’re not on the road for long. Jon described this swing as “one of the longest tours we’ve done. Six days on the road.” They were on Day 5 at Pearl Street Warehouse on June 20, with one more night to go. “Normally,” Jon said, “we only play on the weekends.” Langford will return to the area on Nov. 18, at Sixth & I, where he’ll swap songs with Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Will Oldham). At the beginning of the set, Jon talked about his first time in DC, playing the 9:30 Club on the Three Johns tour.

At the end of March, the Waco Brothers released their first LP of original material in seven years, The Men That God Forgot. They opened the set with the title cut. Before continuing with another track from the album, “In The Dark,” Jon promised there’d only be two songs from the new album. “It’s not a Rolling Stones concert where you have to spend all the time lavatory,” he said.

Watch the official music video for “In The Dark” by the Waco Brothers on YouTube:

The onstage banter throughout the show was highly entertaining. After the first song, the band spotted the TV on the wall next to the stage that displays the performance.” “Hey, look, we’re on TV!” said one of them. Jon said, “What is this show? It sucks!” Somehow, this spun into a bit about how he hasn’t seen the final episode of Succession. “No spoilers,” he said. 

Later, he hit us with a truly amazing/awful dad joke. The drummer, he said, “Lost his job at the zoo. But’s a great drummer, so he’ll always be a keeper for us.” There were a number of sarcastic remarks like describing one of their albums as “actually the 19th greatest rock ‘n’ roll record. Ted Nugent’s not in the Top 50.” I wouldn’t even describe any of Nugent’s records as “good.”

After “In The Dark,” the set continued with “Had Enough,” “Red Brick Wall,” “See Willy Fly By,” “Fox River,” “If Your Heart Isn’t In It,”  and “All or Nothing.” Introducing “George Walked With Jesus,” about the late, great George Jones, Jon said, “I have to explain this. It’s really complicated.” One of his bandmates, he explained, is in an online Jones fan group. “Do you meet in person?” Jon asked. “We ride lawnmowers,” said the bandmate, referring to the infamous incident in which, after his wife hid the car keys from an extremely drunk Jones, he rode his lawnmower to the liquor store.

The set also included “The Best Buy That Money Can Buy,” as well as a cover of a traditional Irish song and “I Fought The Law,” played with the spirit of the Clash. The set proper ended with Lonesome Bob Chaney’s “Do You Think About Me?” They came back for a lengthy encore that included “If You Don’t Change Your Mind,” “Working on Hell’s Roof and Looking At The Flowers,” and “Going Down In History.”

As I  said, the Waco Brothers don’t tour often, being a side-project for the band’s members. This is their first appearance in the area I can remember, going back to when I returned to the area in 2016. I’ve been a fan of them for years, and I was really excited to finally see them live. They didn’t disappoint, playing loud, raucous hard-rocking tunes with a twang, and showing a fine dry humor wit throughout the show. The Waco Brothers have a small but dedicated fanbase, and, for those fans, this rare appearance was a chance to catch a great band doing what they do best.


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