Jon Langford has said on more than one occasion that he formed the Waco Brothers with the expressed purpose of having a band so he could play hometown bar gigs for free beer, and while the group's career has advanced a long way from those humble beginnings, the group's greatest strength is still as America's greatest leftist bar band, cranking out rowdy and well-oiled country punk anthems of the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the Red and the Blue. Given their consistent strength as a stage act, a live album from the Waco Brothers would seem like a no-brainer, and there's little arguing that the band's first live disc, Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern, Chicago captures them in their native environment, cranking out 15 of their best songs (and a Neil Young cover for good measure) at one of the Windy City's finest watering holes with an appreciative and socially lubricated audience joining in the fun. However, Waco Express turns out not to be as different from the group's studio records as you might expect -- given the straightforward production and estimable energy of the Waco Brothers' best albums (especially Cowboy in Flames and Electric Waco Chair), the band was already able to come up with a reasonable simulation of its live attack in the studio, and this live disc manages to add little to the formula beyond a bit more sloppiness, a few surprises in the arrangements, and some amusing between-song patter. So Waco Express isn't the definitive Waco Brothers album as you might expect -- but that doesn't mean it isn't plenty of fun, and if some of the ineffable spirit of the live gig gets lost in the shuffle, this still captures a fine band having a great time. Even better, this collection of songs is strong enough to sub for the Waco Brothers "greatest-hits" album that in a better world would be filling an end cap at a newly unionized Wal-Mart.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming