Guess who's coming to dinner? Kid Congo Powers (right) and the Pink Monkey Birds.
Kid Congo Powers’ musical career is a lens through which can be seen some of the most intense and evocative music of the last 40 years.
Born Brian Tristan in the Los Angeles suburb of La Puente, Kid Congo Powers famously met Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the line at a Pere Ubu concert. Pierce was the president of the LA chapter of the Blondie Fan Club; Powers was the president of local chapter of The Ramones Fan Club. Pierce recruited Powers to join his fledgling band, Creeping Ritual, later to become The Gun Club.
In 1980 Powers joined psychobilly band The Cramps, who’d recently moved to LA from New York (it was Cramps lead singer Lux Interior who bestowed Brian Tristan with the moniker Kid Congo Powers).
Kid Congo and the NDE
Curtin Hotel, Melbourne
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Alex Lianeris photo
It's said John Curtin (whose name was taken by tonight's venue) used to get on the sauce a lot, back before he became Australian Prime Minister and took on the mantle of one the Labor Party-endorsed accolade of "Australia’s greatest ever wartime Prime Minister".
In truth, there’s not much competition: Bob Menzies was only PM long enough for his Country Party colleagues to politically knife him, and back in the heady days of World War I, Billy Hughes’ leadership style made him less friends than a Metwurst merchant in downtown Paris.
Anyway, I digress. Curtin cleaned up his act, got the PM gig in 1941 and dropped off the twig four years later, two months after Russian tanks had barrelled through Berlin, and a month before the Enola Gay put a brutal end to the war in the Pacific.
Kid Congo used to do a lot of shit, a lot of bad shit that probably should’ve killed him a few times over. His band mates and friends haven’t fared so well; some years back Kid realised his own habits were suffocating his love of music, and his punk rock attitude, so he quit the juice, the sauce, the gear, the candy, the rock, the powder, the stuff and the snuff.
Harry Howard had his own near-death scare; indeed, his health was so dire his doctor still reminds him how close he came to mortality (the scare provided the inspiration for the title of Howard’s band – NDE (Near Death Experience). Indeed, one of Howard’s NDE members, Dave Graney, got his own rude awakening some years back when he coughed up blood on the Paris Metro.
Kid is back in Australia for the fourth time in under five years, coinciding with the launch of his old friend Kim Salmon’s new biography. The Pink Monkey Birds have stayed home, so Kid’s picked up a local backing band in the form of Harry Howard and the NDE. It’s a neat synergy – back in the day Kid Congo moved in common circles with Howard in Crime and the City Solution and These Immortal Souls, and with Dave Graney and NDE drummer Clare Moore during The Moodists’ UK tenure.
Tonight is Kid’s only headline gig at the (John) Curtin Hotel. It’s a packed crowd, squeezed in the Curtin’s sometimes sub-optimal confines.
Kid is as iconoclastic as ever. He’s wearing a middle-age man’s wig that probably deserves its own flammability warning, his face contorts into a myriad of deranged expressions last seen on the 11.34pm train to Hurstbridge and his arms flail around like a psychedelic praying mantis. When Kid tells a story, it rambles like your eccentric uncle telling a story about his latest entrepreneurial plot, seems like it’s getting to a notional conclusion than ambles out to pasture. But no-one cares.
Dave Graney is as sartorially impressive as ever, the combination of brown bowler hat and pencil moustache suggesting a devious banker on the sidelines of ‘Peaky Blinders’ (and special mention of Dave’s periodic bass guitar swipe across the front of the crowd – that man knows moves). Harry Howard churns out those chunky post-punk chords that makes his band so good, and Edwina Preston could be playing the phone book and it’d still make the band even better. Every band Clare Moore has ever played in has been shit hot – and that’s more than simple coincidence.
|The set starts in Pink Monkey Birds territory ("LSDC", "I Found a Peanut", "Black Santa"), then slides into some NDE ("The Only One") and back in time to The Shangri-Las ("Sophisticated Boom Boom"). The band sounds just like you might think it should – dirty and garage but in a post-punk sort of way. "New Kind of Kick" is intense without intimidating, and the cover of Suicide’s "Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne" provokes shit-eating grins across the crowd.
Then it’s back to NDE territory and a call and response between Kid and Ed Preston on "She Doesn’t Like It", before rounding out the first bracket with The Gun Club’s "Sex Beat".
The encore starts with a Bowiefied cover of Spencer P Jones’ "When He Finds Out", and we remember that Spencer’s last ever appearance on stage was alongside Kid, 18 months earlier. Age shall weary Spencer no longer, tragically for all who knew and loved him. Then we get The Cramps’ "Garbageman", the ultimate trash song in more ways than one. We’re all garbage in a sense, waiting to be put out when the time comes. But until that happens we’ve got Kid Congo to remind us why life is worth living.