There is nothing like a heat wave in Philadelphia. You know what I am talking about. When it is an effort to even put one foot in front of the other and you are wondering to yourself why you were complaining about the cold a few short months earlier. You have a choice of how to survive a heat wave. You can either try to limit any physical activity and sit quietly in a darkened cool room and focus on breathing or you could venture out to a sold show in a very small club. I chose the latter.
On Monday night, Susan and I ventured to the Boot and Saddle in South Philly to see The Mekons. Full disclosure up front, I was not into punk or new wave in the eighties. In fact, I was really only into music that came out during the Vietnam War or the Grateful Dead. There was no room to explore any other type of music. Obviously, as I get older and less militant, I have come to appreciate all types of music and try not to limit myself to one genre. However, that was not the case in the 80s. All this is to say that The Mekons were not even on my radar during those early years. I was excited to see these guys, because so many friends love their music and I wanted to experience them for myself.
First, the Boot and Saddle. It was this old man dive bar until couple years ago when the folks behind Union Transfer and R5 Productions revitalized into a small nightclub. It has both types of music- country and western. The sound is awesome and holds about 200 people. It is small, I mean, tight small. Our only real complaint and really this is a vertically challenged person’s complaint, is that there is no tilt to the floor. So, if you are in the back, you are not really seeing much except the tall guy in front of you. Though, on Monday, my friend Andrew mentioned his brilliant idea of setting up a standing room floor plan that would work like a half pipe. Tall people would stand against the wall, short people would be smack in the middle and the varying levels of height people would fill in moving from the middle out to the walls. That way, everyone could see. Absolutely brilliant, but, alas, not implemented Monday night.
A really fun thing about the Boot and Saddle is that there is no back entrance to the stage. The musicians come upstairs from the basement Green Room and have to walk through the crowd to get to the stage. The first time there, Aimee Mann brushed by me so quickly and unexpectedly that that I did not even have a chance to shout “I hate Sarah McLaughlin.” (In case you don’t get that reference, check out Portlandia Season 1, Episode 3. Trust me, you will not regret it.)
The Boot and Saddle shows always start on time, which I completely appreciate being 50 and out on a Monday night. Trust me, I was not the oldest person at this show by a long shot, so everyone needed to get home, including the band members who mentioned they needed to get on the road by 10:30. By the way, since it was an old person’s show, I saw about 40 people I knew, which is always fun.
The Mekons took the stage on time and immediately rocked out. They describe themselves as a punk band turned alt-country collective and there are about 8 members. They have been doing this for 38 years and have never been famous. They live all over the place, have full time jobs; some in music, some not and it is really clear that they not only have been love playing but loving playing together. John Langford and Sally Timms, I guess you would say take the lead and do most of the on stage banter. They are just fun. Great sense of humor, political and great interaction with the crowd. But when they are playing, they are playing. I guess I was most surprised was that punk can be silly and light. I think I never listened to punk because I just thought I was being yelled at the whole time. If these guys were angry, and some of their songs were definitely angry at Margaret Thatcher, I did not feel bad about myself when listening to them.
I had known of John Langford and was not disappointed in his performance and banter. In fact, I even wore my Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA t-shirt he designed in his honor. Sally, however was awesome. I am not sure exactly what is so appealing about that woman. It could be her voice, her stage presence, or it could be that she kept her ear plugs in a little purse stuffed in her bra when she doesn’t need them. Regardless, I know there were quite a few tweets that night from adoring women who wanted to be her “when they grew up.”
I found myself dancing almost immediately, singing along and copying the goofy hand motions during one of their songs. I think, though my favorite song, was the last one they played. I am not even sure the name, but it was totally punk. And I knew it without knowing how I knew it. At that point, I really missed what I missed during the 80s.
38 shows to go, 316 days left…