King Khan and The Shrines
Cafe Eleven, St. Augustine, FL • February 8, 2012
There’s a lesson to be learned tonight. Even though James Brown was resolutely fastidious in his appearance to the point of fining backing musicians if their shoes weren’t polished to his liking, he knew that the best soul, the real heavy stuff, was rooted in absolute chaos and high-tension disorder. Garage rock potentate King Khan (usually of the superlative King Khan & BBQ Show) has decided to push that latter point to its apotheosis with his auto-destruct soul orchestra, The Shrines. The scene’s already chaos inside the jam-packed Café Eleven… I don’t know man, the college kids that congregate in this venue are crazy to begin with, and they’ve already been whipped into a frenzy by opener the Jacuzzi Boys. To my ears it’s pretty lackluster stuff, the equivalent of the Stones trying to share the stage with James Brown at the TAMI Awards and looking like a bunch of preening kids.
After an anxious wait, from all corners of the club various Shrines begin to materialize onstage. There’s the stick-thin keyboardist who looks like a mod Chris Kattan, perched on the very lip of the stage, his keyboard jutting into the crowd. There’s the horn section that looks like members of a German industrial band, but RAVE it up like The J.B.’s. There’s the drummer who looks like a member of Crowbar. There’s the percussionist who for real shared stages with Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. There’s the bass player and guitarist who look like they were in a Big Black cover band. The sheer visual anarchy of the players is in stark contrast to their fucking razor sharp tightness and is admissible evidence of King Khan’s mad genius as a (big) bandleader.
And speak of the devil, Khan storms through the crowd and jumps up on the stage, a vision of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ regal madness in cape, feathery crown, glittery tunic, and necklace made of (human?) bones. Cue scenes of total batshit insanity. With a feverish intensity pitched midway between the Fabulous Flames, the Make-Up, and the Cramps, King Khan and the Shrines maintain an almost unbelievable level of intensity, without even a droplet of sweat between them.
The keyboardist repeatedly launches his keyboard into the crowd. The horn section delights in noir blurts and free-jazz squiggles equally, and then all drop their instruments to pick up tambourines and stomp into the crowd for a good ol’ communal raveup. Meanwhile Khan strips off layer after layer of clothes until he’s left with just underwear, cape, and crown. He picks up a guitar occasionally like a lightning rod to harness the flashpaper energy in the room, but he’s even better when he’s going all Bela Lugosi with his cape or leaning forward into the front rows and preaching one-on-one soul-noise gospel to eager converts.
They finally take a group bow and leave the stage, save for one sax player who keeps blowing until the rest of the band clambers back onstage. And the familiar three-note organ line of motherfucking SUICIDE’S “Ghost Rider” rings out. Yep, it’s a gloriously sprawling supercharged version and Khan has got all the Alan Vega-isms down COLD. Bliss, thanks for asking. They follow it up with fix or six more numbers before the band devolves into gleeful chaos. instruments are dismantled, band members throw themselves into the teeming crowd, and King Khan and the Jacuzzi Boys’ singer huddle up for some good old primal scream therapy. That’s a show.
King Khan: www.myspace.com/kingkhantheshrines