The People’s Choice
The Situationist promptly situated us: “There’s no product to sell, there’s no point in being here.” Typically sarcastic, Jon Langford disproved the second part of his opening line with a whiplash set at Mercury Lounge on December 15—though the first bit was something of a whopper too, since nobody commodifies his dissent so prolifically. This year Langford fit in Mekons and Waco Brothers full-lengths and a limited-edition record with Sally Timms, as well as an Other Music exhibit, which opened the following night, of what he called “my tiny tiny paintings”—folk-art c&w iconography by a Volkpunk iconoclast.
Jonboy played with two of his five fellow Waco sibs as 6 Proud Walkers, occasioning plenty of qualifying prologues whenever they took a cauterizing quicksilver blade to songs off the recent Electric Waco Chair (the sleeve gives a shout-out to Illinois Artists Against the Death Penalty, www.aadphome.com) and the ragged-glorious Cowboy in Flames from 1997. “We’re going to play half a Waco Brothers song now,” Langford would say, but these tunes weren’t incomplete so much as gorgeously unvarnished—a steely-eyed country bride stripped bare by her bachelors, shimmering mandolins and steel-guitar daubings forsaken for skintight essentials, peaking with the suitably incendiary “See Willy Fly By” and a gale-force rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” Drummer Steve Goulding maintained a merciless tempo while bassist Alan Doughty flung his spidery limbs every which way and shouted manic backup vocals like he’d just stumbled in from the bleachers of a soccer match (screaming “I LOVE A MILLIONAIRE!” with wild-eyed glee on the Mekons chestnut, his ropy neck tendons nearly popped loose).
Ringleader Langford took requests (for “20th Century Boy,” he made his guitar howl in pain and organically vocoderized his voice into an uncanny Bolan death rattle), and offered a few moments of restorative calm. But these interludes were equally breath-snatching: the reverent, ethereal waltz-time of “Tom Jones Levitation” (“Where we come from,” said the Chicago transport from Leeds, “Tom Jones always wins the popular vote. He doesn’t need a junta“), the wistful balladeering of “Anything Can Happen.” The latter was a suggestion from a fan whom Langford knew by name—Tammy from Chicago, who just got married. The acerbic, beery bloke then crooned her a wedding present that perfectly tempered the hopeful with the world-weary, the bitter with the sweet: the sound of pure devotion. —Jessica Winter
Christmas is a crass love affair. Even before the Thanksgiving leftovers have had a chance to rot, we are deluged by holiday jingles—a wearied frenzy of prepackaged cheer. Hence the chutzpah of Christian Marclay’s The Sounds of Christmas, a monthlong installation at the New Museum that features DJs remixing old X-mas vinyl. “I wanted to do something to react to this sound. There’s so much of it around this time of year, we get kind of nauseated,” says Marclay. During four performances, he and other veteran soundsmiths plundered selections from more than 1000 pieces of vintage schlock.
At the opening on December 14, Toshio piled Chipmunks carols on top of Pac-Man carols, filtered “Silver Bells” into sickly bleeps, reduced a birth-of-Christ narrative to a desolate field of static. Darryl Hell countered with a lyrical cacophony of glee, crossing gospel with Elvis, juggling two copies of “O Come All Ye Faithful” until they sounded like a heavy-metal riff. Marclay—an artist who’s long explored the cultural significance of vinyl as both object and medium—offered a more polished excursion. Balancing two Technics 1200s, two old phonographs, wah-wah pedal, and a sampler, he spun twinkling chimes, Ray Charles blues, and Wurlitzer grooves, looping samples into lonely echoes of “Noel, Noel.” It made me flash on the Whos of Dr. Seuss singing their “dahoo dorai” refrain. Overhead, video monitors showcased gaudy classics by folks like Glen Campbell and Perry Como, as images of the DJs flickered on wall screens. A techno yule log. (When Marclay debuted the show last year in San Antonio, it was a big hit on the Christian youth channel.)
You can watch videos of these and other sets by Olive, Hahn Roe, and Marina Rosenfeld during museum hours (noon to 8 p.m.). The show closes December 30 with hip-hop turntablists 5th Platoon, at 6. Spiked eggnog recommended. —Sarah Ferguson