Live Last Night: Big Shoulders Ball

From Chicago they came, nearly a dozen indie-music acts, to present the "Big Shoulders Ball'' at the Black Cat Monday night. The occasion, of course, was the inauguration of Chicago's own Barack Obama. Yet the man of the hour -- six hours, actually -- was Welsh-born country-punker Jon Langford, who led not one but two exuberant sets.

The lineup included sleepy-voiced bluesman Honeyboy Edwards and a tribute to jazz eccentric Sun Ra. But the music was mostly some form of alt-rock, facilitated by the Chicago scene's numerous overlaps. Doug McCombs played with both Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day; the latter's Janet Beveridge Bean also performed with Freakwater; and Tortoise's Jeff Parker was part of the Sun Ra trio.

Tortoise also accompanied singer-violinist-whistler Andrew Bird, and Langford's Waco Brothers backed Ted Leo, the evening's most prominent non-Chicagoan. Finally, Eleventh Dream Day helped Langford perform songs by two of his myriad other bands, the Three Johns and the Mekons, with vocal support from Sally Timms (a Mekon) and Leo.

As Langford admitted, many of the performers were not prepared musically for Obama's victory; their repertoires are stronger on grievance than affirmation. Both Leo and Icy Demons turned to Curtis Mayfield for optimistic numbers, while Langford promised (not altogether convincingly) that the Wacos would never again play the anti-Dubya "Blink of an Eye.'' But however bleak its sentiments, the music brimmed with good spirits. From the Wacos's "I Fought the Law'' to Langford and Eleventh Dream Day's "Hard to Be Human Again,'' the old protest songs celebrated defeat triumphantly.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  January 20, 2009; 11:04 AM ET Inauguration , Live Last Night
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