Called “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ‘n’ roll” by Lester Bangs, the Mekons have been making some of the best music on the planet for more than thirty-five years. But despite a rabid fan base and constant critical adoration, the band, which formed at the University of Leeds back in 1977, has never quite made the big time. Joe Angio captures the wild, DIY spirit of this unique music and art collective in the stirring documentary Revenge of the Mekons. Angio (How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company [and Enjoy It]) follows the self-deprecating band — the members of which are quick to joke about their lack of financial and popular success, especially when they’re onstage and learn from fans that an upcoming gig has been canceled — as they celebrate their thirtieth anniversary and record their most recent excellent album, Ancient and Modern. Angio talks with the current Mekons lineup, which includes cofounders Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford along with Susie Honeyman, Rico Bell, Lu Edmonds, Sarah Corina, Steve Goulding, and Sally Timms, as well as such former members as Kevin Lycett, Mark “Chalkie” White, Andy Corrigan, and Dick Taylor, as they recount the band’s rollicking history, beginning with its Leeds days as a socialist punk band battling over shows with Gang of Four through its mid-1980s transformation into alt-country folk rockers.
Angio mixes in amazing raw footage from the 1970s with more contemporary scenes as the Mekons, with their usual reckless abandon and utter joyfulness, play such songs as “Where Were You,” “The Hope and the Anchor,” “Ghosts of American Astronauts,” “Millionaire,” “Hello Cruel World,” “Hard to Be Human,” “Memphis, Egypt,” and “The Curse.” Sharing their love of all things Mekons are such wide-ranging pundits as Jonathan Franzen, Greil Marcus, Gang of Four’s Hugo Burnham and Andy Gill, Will Oldham, Greg Kot, Craig Finn, Luc Sante, Mary Harron, and performance artist Vito Acconci. Back in October 2011, we wrote that “a world that includes the Mekons is just a better place for everyone,” and that still holds true. So start by watching this wonderfully crazy documentary, about a group of crazy characters who have formed a crazy kind of family, then go out and pick up such seminal records as Fear and Whiskey, The Mekons Honky Tonkin’, So Good It Hurts, The Mekons Rock‘n’Roll, Natural, Ancient Modern, etc., and be sure to catch them live when they come anywhere near your town. Revenge of the Mekons had its world premiere last November as part of the “Sonic Cinema” section of the annual DOC NYC festival and opens October 29 at Film Forum. Angio, Langford, and Goulding will be on hand for the 7:15 screening on opening night, with Angio and Langford back the next night at 9:30. Craig Finn of the Hold Steady will introduce the 7:15 show on November 1, while Sante will do the same on November 3 at 7:15 and Marcus on November 4 at 7:15. In conjunction with the U.S. theatrical release of the film, there will be an opening-night after-party concert with Langford at the Bell House in Brooklyn ($10, 9:00), followed the next night at 7:30 by a free Mekons Symposium at Columbia University’s Buell Hall, Maison Française on October 30 with Langford, Acconci, Harron, Franzen, Marcus, and Sante.