“I’ve never been able to find a live band in New York as consistently thrilling and funny and fun as the Waco Brothers.” —Author and former Chicagoan Sarah Vowell
You’ve heard of the crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil?
Well, the Wacos race towards the crossroads of punk and country, heedless of speed limits and stop signs. The collisions spectacular, loud, energizing and sometimes messy. We’ve seen them a three hundred and forty six times, and the Waco Brothers never fail to entertain. Subtlety is for the weak, so they’ve chosen the path of optimum mayhem and tomfoolery. In their rollicking career, they have been called everything from the flagship act of the alternative country “movement” to pure butchery. Both are likely to be correct, even within one evening.
Let’s let singer/guitarist Jon Langford describe the nexus of punk and country:
“It’s so direct and honest, it’s almost painful … All the songs are about sex and death and drinking. If you listen to early George Jones, it’s simple, three-chord stuff where the subject is everyday life … It could be the Buzzcocks.”
Indeed. They can be political, they can be personal, and sometimes there is no difference. But the Wacos never let politics get in the way of the next round.
The Wacos formed as a way to bang out country music covers, cage free beers out of friendly tavern owners and to provide a respite from their other bands. Their early shows at long-shuttered Chicago watering holes like the Augenblick and Jimmy and Tai’s Wrigleyville Tap are like crazy fever dreams from another time. Who’d a thunk they’d become an institution?
The line-up, in case you haven’t been paying attention: Jon Langford (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts), Steve Goulding (Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Graham Parker & the Rumour), Alan Doughty (Jesus Jones, Dollar Store), Deano (Dollar Store, Wreck), and Tracy Dear (World’s Greatest Living Englishman). On drums the past few years has been Joe Camarillo (Hushdrops).
With an improbable longevity, an impeccable rock and roll resume, and a go-for-broke live personae that can distract from the sharpness of their subject matters, it can be easy to take the Wacos for granted. But what was true at the beginning of the siege remains so today: in these fraught times, no one’s out there writing and performing with the political and personal so intertwined. Like a strange, colorful and possibly poisonous toad that lies dormant in the mud of an Amazonian rain forest, only to emerge when it seems like it’s necessary, the Waco Brothers are needed more than ever. They are working to save music so you don’t have to.
The Girls of the Golden West
Marydee Reynolds, Amalea Tshilds, and Elyse Bergman recreate the music of Marydee’s great aunt Millie Good, who along with her sister Dolly became one of the first successful female country acts in the 1930s as members of the Midwestern Hayride / National Barndance categories.