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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Last Night: King Khan (Shrines) vs. King Khan (Almighty Defenders)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 8:13 AM

King Khan in his King Khan & BBQ Show guise
  • King Khan in his King Khan & BBQ Show guise
King Khan, the tall, brown, and pot-bellied leader of various garage rock 'n' soul acts, was in the curious position of performing three times, in three different acts, in San Francisco over the last week. On Thursday, he headlined Bimbo's with his band King Khan & the Shrines--as a man he repeatedly called his "brother" sat bethroned on a corner stage wearing flowing robes and a turban and looking like he was dosed on psychedelics.

Last night, Khan opened the show at Great American Music Hall with his duo The King Khan & BBQ Show, then headlined again as part of the Almighty Defenders a band that blends the two-piece with the Black Lips--as a man who looked curiously like the Bimbo's "brother" stood politely in line for beers at the bar dressed like every other dude at the show. 

There were many other differences between the Shrines and the Almighty performances. We judge one Khan act against the other below. 

King Khan & the Shrines vs. The Almighty Defenders

Opening acts
Shrines: The Shrines show at Bimbo's opened with a rocking psych-garage set by SF's Fresh & Onlys. It was a tight performance spiffed up extra nice by the additions of the Shrine's saxophonist and second percussionist, and front man Tim Cohen wearing a tie. 

Defenders: The Almighty Defenders gig had two opening acts. The first, King Khan & BBQ Show, had Khan and BBQ (Mark Sultan) playing guitars and singing raw '50s-style ballads. BBQ also played the drums. Their set was cut slightly short when BBQ decided the sound wasn't right or some crap and stormed off stage in a huff.

Next up was the Black Lips, one of the best garage rock acts on the circuit, a fact proved again last night. How good are they? As the band told us from the stage, so good they're being "sent to Iraq." To tour. So the good people of that country can watch Cole Alexander swallow his own loogies. And so they can see how riled up the Lips can get the crowd when the band launches into "Bad Kids," the biggest crowd pleaser in a show full of 'em (bad kids and crowd pleasers, that is). 

Exposed flesh
Shrines: One of the Shrines' saxophonists stripped from the waist down and gave himself a "mangina" on stage when the band launched into "I Wanna Be a Girl." He displayed his tucking ability while lying in repose, until two scowling bouncers hurriedly escorted him offstage.  Khan appeared for the encore stripped down to nut-hugging panties decorated with a big gold triangle.

Defenders: None. The musicians remained fully clothed. The Almighty Defenders arrived on stage in flowing white religious robes with purple lining and crosses sewn over their hearts. [Update: It's clear from the comments below that this "dude" missed plenty of naked man parts, urination, a near concussion, and other displays of Garage Groups Gone Wild. Lesson learned: it ain't over til the big dude farts into the microphone.]

Bathroom anger
Shrines: The Bimbo's show was wild. People were crowd surfing often--to which Khan implored them to "stop acting all grunge. I want you to be out there finger banging each other instead"--and dancing up a storm. The frenzied rock 'n' soul music (and amount of booze being consumed) unleashed some devils inside. The bathroom attendant sat in the back of the ladies' lounge by the end of the night, throwing her feet up on a stool and bitching to a friend that the Khan crowd was the "worst, sloppiest, most terribly-behaved crowd I've seen in a long time."

Defenders: None. Of course, there's no attendant at Great American. But generally the crowd last night seemed subdued. Only the first couple rows of fans were even dancing much throughout the night. Although during the Black Lips set, a guy and girl jumped on stage and danced with Alexander. It was hard to tell if they were buddies of the band or if they were pulling a White House party crasher move. 

It is truly a sin that I took such crappy photos of the Almighty Defenders
  • It is truly a sin that I took such crappy photos of the Almighty Defenders
Of all Khan's musical disguises, the Shrines best displays his dynamic range. The rambunctious horn section, and the keyboardist who lifts his instrument skyward while playing add extra thrust to the punk evangelism the singer projects from the stage. Last week, Khan went gospel, girl group, and gospel/girl group/psychedelic (the best song of the night, which included freak-preaching stops and starts). You can't help but dance to King Khan & the Shrines, even if you're a little creeped out by Khan's crass banter and lyrics about parting his woman's "meat curtains."

Defenders: This group leans on the same gospel reinvention as the Shrines, but the execution is half as interesting. Khan took the stage with a bottle of Jameson, perhaps a symbol of how serious the group takes its headlining gigs. All of Khan's projects have a raw, riding-off-the-rails vibe to them. But last night's Defenders show felt like a drunken, sloppy jam session with no reward for those of us not hitting that bottle. The musicians took turns making potshots at religion--the best zinger came from the Black Lips' Alexander, who cheekily dedicated the group's cover of Elvis's "He Touched Me" to the Pope. But their piss-taking felt more like tired schtick than playful camp. As one friend put it, "I would have preferred to watch the Black Lips play a longer set." The show was the 2 a.m. encore parading as the main event. 

Attention Spans 
Shrines: You had to pry the drinks from people's hands at Bimbo's and push them out the door at the end of the night. Granted, this show was on a Thursday, closer to the drinking end of the week, but Khan and Co. had possessed the club with the spirit of crazy-talking gospel punk.

Defenders: The attrition started pretty early on in the set. Although the Almighty Defenders looked like they were having a blast on stage, and Khan's between song sermons were loaded with his trademark sexual puns, the music wasn't cutting it. I lasted about 45 minutes before I cut my losses and joined the exiting ranks. The Black Lips, King Khan and BBQ, and King Khan & the Shrines all put on pretty great performances. Last night the Almighty Defenders just weren't up to par, and it was difficult to be their witness--no matter how much Khan asked for witnesses--for the full set.

*Extra Update: Club Reactions
Shrines: None that I'm aware of.

Defenders: From Great American Music Hall's Facebook page: "Last night (April 20) an incident occured at the end of the set involving inappropriate and uncondoned behavior by two of the artists performing. To those in the audience, please accept our appologies. We will continue to strive to provide an environment and music that is appropriate for all ages."

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