King Khan and the Shrines: 1 May 2009 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York

King Khan was the sovereign and the audience his court, just as one would suspect. Notorious for his stage antics and backing himself with the controlled chaos of a garage-inspired eight-piece funk outfit (his Shrines), dancing cheerleader, roller-skating geriatric hype-man, and any other member of the audience with the conviction to share the spotlight in various stages of undress, King Khan unleashed a riotous set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Yet, unlike my last King Khan and the Shrines experience, the result was relatively tame by comparison — and not for Mr. Khan’s lack of wanting.

After assembling on stage the Shrines set the mood for the imminent, and dramatic, entrance of King Khan himself. Regally walking down the stage left stairs, gold cape flowing and cobra staff in hand, Khan acknowledged his outsize persona and launched the group into “Land of the Freak”. Within the first 15 minutes (which included numbers “I Wanna Be A Girl”, “Pickin Up The Trash”, “Le Fils Du Jacques Dutronc”, pants-less dancing horn players, and Khan body-surfing for several verses) I’d heard two people remark, “It’s too much! Too much!” and, “This is the best thing ever!” And there wasn’t even a game of trash dodgeball between Khan and the audience this time around.

Instead Khan got sentimental on “Shivers Down My Spine”, wheezing like a wounded lover to supportive hollers, and then inspirational and televangelical on a long crowd-pleasing song about climbing into a woman. The fulcrum of the set was “Burnin’ Inside”, a fast tambourine-paced track, with Khan singing his best James Brown cries. It was funky chaos both on stage and off.

But as Khan and his Shrines kept their foot on the gas, the crowd couldn’t keep up. “(How Can I Keep You) Outta Harms Way” and other songs and their accompanying phantasmagorical gags had exhausted the crowd visually and physically. By the encore, “Live Fast Die Strong”, Khan’s tight band and surrounding miscreants were themselves disintegrating, and what was left of the once ebullient crowd was lifeless. Either King Khan and his Shrines out-partied them all, or they were simply heeding his advice, “Life is way too short to be wasted in a bar.”