They've been punks. They've been cowboys. They've been island-hopping pirates. One time they were someone else's art exhibit. The Mekons are so smart they get to play in museums and so passionate they turn jaded rock critics into drooling fans. Formed in the late 1970s by university students in Leeds (the Gang of Four's hometown), the Mekons began as drunken amateurs inspired by Punk's political engagement and DIY ethic; by 1985 they'd become drunken semi-professionals inspired by the corpse of Hank Williams. Band members come and go as frequently as the group finds new styles to redefine, but the Mekons somehow remain consistently fascinating -- if only because no one can figure out how they make such vital rock 'n' roll by combining Marxist theory, folk traditions, and lots of beer. Their live shows can be stunning, life-changing experiences or sloppy, embarrassing displays of debauchery. Sometimes both.