Kid Congo Powers has a resume that speaks for itself. After co-founding the Gun Club with Jeffrey Lee Pierce in 1979, he played with the Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Powers also established the psychedelic garage band Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. In February, the Pink Monkey Birds released their latest record, Swing From the Sean DeLear.
The record is the band’s first release since La Araña Es La Vida and Powers’ move from Los Angeles to his new home of Tucson, Arizona. Recorded in Tucson at Waterworks Recording, the record is a four-song EP mixed by Jim Waters (who has worked with Sonic Youth, R.L. Burnside, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion). The EP’s title refers to Sean DeLear—the late iconic luminary and singer of the LA punk band, Glue. DeLear, whose image graces the EP’s cover, was a glamorous non-binary scenester who embodied the same underground vivacity that Kid Congo Powers does.
The title of the record pays homage to DeLear, as does the first track. “Sean DeLear” is an upbeat rock number scattered with punchy guitars. The lyrics, “I love how you swing from the chandelier / How many people can you fit up there,” conjure the image of DeLear swinging from a giant chandelier like he’s carousing at a party in the afterlife. This vision of celebrating the memory of friends no longer with us reappears later in the EP.
If the first track gives us an image of Sean DeLear partying in heaven, track two, “(Are You) Ready Freddy?” gives us the music for the party. The track is an instrumental psychedelic freak-out that starts with Powers screaming, “Ready, Freddy?” From there, the haphazard guitars and frenetic energy never dissipate until the end when Powers says, “That must be it.” It’s one of those songs meant to be cranked at top volume. It’s also a painful reminder of how little revelry anyone has been able to do in the past year and how incredibly quiet it’s been.
“I Can’t Afford Your Shitty Dreamhouse” is a funky head-bobber. The first line: “We’re at the end of the end of privilege”, sets the tone for the rest of the song. It invokes images of upper-crust fakery, something akin to a gaudy McMansion that’s replaced a historic house. When Powers sings, “I really don’t want, I really don’t care,” his revulsion is made clear. Meanwhile, the music is a groovy saunter, reminiscent of the music playing at the end of a party that finds a few late-night stragglers still dancing in the corners.
Side Two of the record is one song—a 14-minute mellow piece titled “He Walked In”. With flutes and bongos coming to the forefront, the music has a laid-back Chicano flavor reminiscent of Santana. The song came into being after Powers had a dream about late friend and bandmate Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who passed away in 1996. Powers’ voice is reminiscent of Vincent Price’s, giving the song an eerie vibe. When he sings, “Although you’ve been dead for quite some time, you walked into my room, you walked into my mind,” the listener is brought back to that dreamlike mood that “Sean DeLear” first summoned.
The way the lyrics for “Sean DeLear” and “He Walked In” came about could be explained in an interview in which Powers talked to Eric Davidson at Please Kill Me about his process for putting words to his songs. “I have always been interested and been mining the hypnogogic state of mind for song lyrics. I’m fascinated with what’s between those planes. That state right when you wake up or right before going to sleep where you are a bit of both things. I think having a really bad hangover, you slip into this state as well. Free thinking with no rules.”
The ambling pace of the song is echoed in an accompanying video shot and directed by cinematographer David Fenster, which finds Powers strolling through the Sonoran Desert at the magic hour in a pink suit and bolo tie. The flute (played by Mark Cisneros) gets the spotlight as the tempo picks up towards the song’s end. This is where we find Powers dancing in the dark in the video like a guest at his own party. The song is a perfect way to close out the EP. It’s the end of the party—the slow gathering of belongings and the shuffle out the door into the night.
Swing From the Sean DeLear is a much-needed breath of fresh air after one of the darkest periods of our lived history and points toward a time when we will hopefully celebrate together again.