[20 August 2008]
There exists a fine line between adolescence and rock ‘n’ roll. Some are convinced they are one and the same. Joey Ramone believed that the latter induces the former; or rather “Experiencing [The Ramones] is like having the fountain of youth.” If interpreting such words dogmatically, a rock ‘n’ roll performance can be a religious experience transcending time and space. But there are also those shows where a performer’s youthful abandon bleeds into childish gags that dominate indefinitely, proroguing music for pranks and undermining any art in favor of spectacle. This is not rock ‘n’ roll (or punk or indie), just Jackass.
On a sun-soaked Sunday at McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, amid a lineup saturated with bands renowned for “crazy” live shows, King Khan and his/the Shrines outdid them all. It began with “Pickin’ Up the Trash” which pretty much instantly incited a game of plastic bottle dodgeball with the crowd. Somewhere in between “I Wanna Be a Girl” and “Stone Soup” Khan produced a bag of bananas that quickly lead off round two of King Khan vs. The Crowd. At one point he did touch gloves with his opponent, only after getting nailed in the groin as he struck a pose to the conclusion of “Welfare Bread”. It reached a point where their set list was secondary to whatever Khan was cooking up next.
But the Shrines’ thrash funk was addicting and remarkably tight for all the commotion happening on stage. Keyboardist Fredovitch played keytar (or rather lifted his wooden Korg above his head repeatedly), and the brass section punctuated the funk. All the while percussionist Ron Streeter (himself an R&B veteran with Stevie Wonder, Bo Diddley, and more) articulated a flowing groove along with the rest of the rhythm section. Incredibly, Khan—as talented as an entertainer and bandleader as he is a crowd provoker and stunt man—managed to squeeze out vocals similar to James Brown, albeit without Brown’s stylistic range.
Aside from the onstage antics, dodgeball, slip n’slides and the overall scene seemed to take precedence for most of the crowd. This was dubbed a pool party was it not?
Despite the pool party atmosphere, Deerhunter front man Bradford Cox walked onstage without fake blood or a sundress, both of which he has been know to wear, conforming instead to anticlimactic jeans and a t-shirt. Fulfilling their self-described “ambient” post-punk sound, the group was listless. Thrumming distorted guitar waves pulsated beyond the concrete pool and back, undulating in and out of sync to create interesting cadences with which to bob to. “Today Brooklyn is my delay pedal,” Cox remarked. Such emotive pensive drones were a welcome break until Khan reappeared, this time to announce a new collaboration with Cox and Cole Alexander of the Black Lips called Butt Flower—complete with a literal visual translation.
Headliners, the Black Lips, were more like rowdy ironic teenagers at a summer family picnic than the noisome punk stuntmen that their reputation implies. As the culminating act of such a close-knit group of bands, there wasn’t a VIP not encircling the stage to take in the scene. They flew through favorites like “Katrina” and “Dirty Hands”, their definitive “flower punk” song. Extending the crowd versus bands aerial onslaught that began earlier in the day, King Khan now launched toilet paper rolls that eventually engulfed drummer Joe Bradley and his kit. This was, of course, only a build-up to Cox using a…wait for it…Chihuahua as a pick as he joined the Black Lips onstage.
Seemingly overlooked all afternoon, and generally under appreciated, Dirty Finger spun infectious mixes that prompted many audience members to let loose their inner Michael Jackson between sets. But the real attraction was King Khan, who traversed that fine line between adolescence and rock ‘n’ roll, and was resolutely unchallenged in his supremacy as premier buffoon.