“The task of art today is to bring chaos into order,” T. W. Adorno proclaimed in “Minima Moralia”; for twenty-five years now, Jon Langford and a daunting constellation of collaborators have been putting the Frankfurt theorist’s aphorism into action. Exuberantly blending a fatalistic estimate of the deck stacked against a truly human life in an age of bureaucratic control with an unwavering faith in the potential of resistance and solidarity, Langford’s work with the Mekons, alt-country pioneers the Waco Brothers and anti-death penalty activists the Pine Valley Cosmonauts forms a continuous testament to the promise of punk rock. Langford comes to the MCA stage along with longtime band-mate Sally Timms and Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone to present an autobiographical melange of music, storytelling and image. “The Executioner’s Last Songs,” which takes its title from a three-disc series of roots music Langford assembled for local label Bloodshot, surveys Langford’s improbably successful career as it conveys a potent political message against capital punishment. While projections of Langford’s paintings form an effective backdrop and his self-deprecating narratives spin out a capsule tutorial on evading the snares of the entertainment industry, the heart of the evening is the music. Langford’s passionate and emphatic songs may remain best suited to dark, crowded dives like the long-departed Lounge Ax; it’s thrilling nonetheless to see this DIY hero take up a brief residence amid the MCA’s opulent display. (John Beer)
Jon Langford performs “The Executioner’s Last Songs” on January 20 and 21 at 7:30pm at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)397-4010.