King Khan and the Shrines
July 11, 2008
Great American Music Hall
Review and photos by Jennifer Maerz
Better Than: Being half naked, getting in fights, and making out in the privacy of your own home.
Some bands are all, “Yeah, people go crazy at our shows. They fight and make out and shit.” And then you go to their show and it’s the same drunken yahoos doing the same drunken yahoo things they do at bars on 16th and Valencia on any weekend night while the band does nothing out of the ordinary.
And then there’s a King Khan and the Shrines show.
When I interviewed Khan last week, he gave that same line about how people get themselves into trouble when he performs, and I thought, yeah, whatever. I wasn’t expecting the steep decline of western civilization that accompanied lasts night’s performance at the Great American. I also didn’t realize how much fun that decline could get.
A short list of what I witnessed during the King Khan and the Shrines show: Khan repeatedly nearly kicking some dumbass frat dude in the front row in the head; fans next to the stage poking Khan in his bellybutton, slapping his naked beer belly, patting his skimpy-pantied ass, rubbing his curly hair, and at the end of the show, making out with the singer as he leaned down and grabbed one blonde’s face from the stage. But that’s not forgetting the other sights at the show: another blondie ripping off her shirt and bra to ride a guy’s shoulders towards the stage and hug Khan (twice); a wasted chick totally sucker punching some dude in the head (her aim pretty miserable, arms flying like broken rungs on a windmill); folks inhaling weed like it was oxygen; a couple making out deep inside the mosh pit. And that’s just what I can remember and read from my chicken scratch notes.
It was a pretty wild show.
But I guess when you bring ten musicians from around the globe on the road (and one cute cheerleader with a blue flapper dress and gold pom-poms), and you insert something about getting “fucked in the ass” into every “psychedelic gospel” song you preach from that rock ‘n’ roll pulpit, things are going to tilt sideways pretty quickly.
King Khan is a Montreal-born/Berlin-based garage rock ‘n’ soul-er, and although his band has been around for almost a decade, last night was a stop on King Khan and the Shrines’ first American tour. How he got visas for all this debauchery I’ll never know. The music was a rousing batch of Blues Brothers-on-acid soul, libidinous funk, and noisy free jam descents like the ten minute “song” about ripping out some dude’s throat, having sex with it, and serving it back to your mother. The band included a horn section, two percussionists, a keyboard player who by the end of the night was holding his instrument vertically and playing it along his back, a guitarist and bassist, and Khan.
Along the way, Khan invited special local guests on stage. Jello Biafra announced the band and then came up to sing two covers with them later – one from Suicide, and Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” The latter was pretty transcendent – not only was Jello up there, but Khan conjured Greg Ashley and Oscar Michel from the Gris Gris to get up there too (as well the night’s opening entertainment, a great baby Black Lips trio from Florida called Jacuzzi Boys).
(Greg and Oscar from the Gris Gris)
The crowd was pretty into it – folks were dancing, drinking, smoking, and (occasionally) fighting from the first note of the first song. It was like Khan had invited us all into this soul-filled, lawless bubble where he set the tone for getting freaky and everyone was invited to follow. Most folks were pretty respectful, although one stage diver didn’t get the hint that Khan did not want to the crowd to disrupt what was happening on the stage.
The theatrics were pretty great, but the music itself unfortunately took a slight decline as the night went on. The songs got a sloppy, the sound muffled, and the weight of the performance started to rest more on the thrill of wondering how far things would go rather than getting into the music. Which is a shame because there are a lot of great songs on that new King Khan and the Shrines record. But if you want to have a cathartic release I guess sometimes you get a little punk rock about your playing.
In the end, the person most wound up from the show was Khan himself. He jumped off the stage, hugged the crowd and the soundman, almost got into shoving fights with three different dudes, and dashed back stage with his cape, glittery underpants, and serpent cane. The singer for the opening band, a kid of about 23, was standing with my friend and me. He just shook his head and smiled. “This tour has been nothing but drinking, voodoo, and cocaine,” he said. And yeah, that made a lot of sense given the spectacle we saw last night.
Critic’s notebook: Opening act Jacuzzi Boys were pretty fun. Pretty straightforward cave-stomp rock, with bits of 13th Floor Elevators in there and a drummer with a big afro, giant baubles, and permanent sunglasses.
By the way: King Khan has been through the Bay a bunch with his other band, King Khan & BBQ Show
(The very special tour van)