Joined by co-headliners the Waco Brothers and a supporting musical cast that consisted of local bands Myssouri and the Supreme Court, as well as D.C. punk unit the Dismemberment Plan, Mojo and his band, the Toad Liquors, put on a "flying from the top turnbuckle" performance that paid proper homage to both the continuous energy and commercial irreverence of the furthest left of all FM signals, 88.5.
"You know when you've become a consumer drone?" Mojo asked the sizable crowd at the Variety Playhouse, assembled in the spirit of all things non-commercial. "When you find yourself eating a McRib sandwich," he said, referring to that most disquieting icon of processed beef food.
There would be no boneless mystery meat in Mojo's performance this evening, however, as the veteran shock-value social commentator proved he's either too terminally irritated or too old to care about what red zone of vulgarity his unrestrained delivery might infiltrate. Indeed, the man in the sleeveless pinstriped coat "treated" the crowd to such understated and complex songs of love and loss as "Tie My Pecker to My Leg" and the Latin-flavored "Poontango." Subtlety, it would seem, was most certainly not on Mr. Nixon's menu this evening.
Although Mojo's reputation as an enduring pop culture critic of the '80s and '90s made him the understandable entertainment choice of a radio station that came of age during that era, his cranky-tirade schtick couldn't help but seem tired at times. Classic stand-by material such as "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child" lost some of its cultural urgency in our post-Britney Spears time frame. Meanwhile, Mojo's more contemporary-flavored attacks, such as the brief "I want to pee on Celine Dion" sing-along, seemed less than inspired, if not downright juvenile. While his stage persona and entertainment value stayed in high gear throughout the performance, Mojo didn't quite meet the level of cultural relevance that Album 88 still enjoys.
The stalwart station's continued vitality was better represented by roots-country shoot-kickers the Waco Brothers, who preceded Mojo. Formed from the '80s Brit-punk ethos of the Mekons, the Waco Brothers' heavy country stomp had all the startling sensation of a sharpened cowboy boot toe to the keester. Singer/guitarist Jon Langford's gruff smoke-and-whiskey delivery -- coupled with the Brothers' drowsier pedal steel vibe -- gave the set a dynamic range of both exuberance and melancholy. Like a poorly wired mechanical bull, the Wacos snapped from a gentle, seductive loll to a frenzied buck with no apparent warning.
The most powerful point in the Waco Brothers performance took place when fellow Mekons member Sally Timms joined the band. When Timms sang the line "old flames can't hold a candle to you" in her nectar-dripped British lilt, the tear-in-the-beer factor ran off the charts, reducing even the darkest Guinness stout in the house to a pale and watery Schaefer Light hue.
Indeed, like any good birthday celebration, the evening resonated with such mixed emotions. And, as the crowd filed out after Mojo Nixon's encore performance of "Burn Down the Malls," it's nice to think that the lonesome broadcast wave flying overhead at 88.5MHz let out a little bittersweet static sniffle itself.
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