A couple of balding guys in dark suits and white shirts tossing off somewhat ramshackle songs about modern technology, feckless leadership and slightly dodgy neighborhoods — this is middle-aged punk rock as played by Carbon/Silicon, a collaboration between Mick Jones (the Clash, Big Audio Dynamite) and Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik) that made an amiable American debut Monday night at the Troubadour. With a steady young rhythm section behind them, Jones and James smiled and shrugged their way through a sloppy, hour-and-20-minute set.
The songs, all drawn from “The Last Post” (Caroline Records), revamp punk tropes for performers who are 30 years older. Certainly the scuffed guitars and whined vocals would be familiar to anyone who remembers the first wave of punk, but the volume has been lowered, tempos ramped down, the clenched fist replaced by a wagging finger. “The News” is all optimism: people are demanding answers, taking matters into their own hands; even the British weather is good. “Acton Zulus” moves from a description of the neighborhood where the band has its studio to a wide-eyed celebration of the Internet (these days, London doesn’t call, it emails), while “Tell It Like It Is” and “War on Culture” are cranky complaints.
Musicians who were once seen as nihilists, ready to tear down all that came before them, are revealed to be classicists, drawing on the Who, the Kinks, Bowie and the Beatles. They even indulge in a soggy blues jam (“Really the Blues”).
Like the album, these songs lose steam long before they come to an end. It’s a bit like listening to stories from elder relatives — you admire their accomplishments, but sometimes they can just go on. Yet Jones and James looked so beatifically happy (Jones extended the evening’s final song, “Why Do Men Fight?,” to keep from leaving the stage), it’s easy to overlook the mostly slapdash perf (including Jones forgetting both the lyrics and chord changes for “Caesars Palace”). Carbon/Silicon, despite the truly silly name (one better suited for prog-rock), is something one never would have expected from punks, even aging ones — loveable.