King Khan & The Shrines at The Echo, July 11, 2008

King Khan

The King Khan show last Thursday night at the Echo was the most packed and sweaty I’ve seen there in a long time.  The last time was probably when the MC5 reunited not so long ago on this very same Echo stage, with a gospel soul review that included Mark Arm, Evan Dando, Don Was, and some of Motown’s finest.  But King Khan and the Shrines had perhaps an even bigger crowd, and actually played better, evoking the spirit of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and making all the mods and rockers and Joe Cockers writhe around like crazed go-go hyenas.

The opening band, the Jacuzzi Boys, had the right idea, playing some good garage noises mixed with a little Americana, kinda like the Georgia Satellites meets Back from the Grave.  And the DJ was spinning some good stuff: classic rhythm and blues, the 13th Floor Elevators, Them.

But the ferocious soul velocity of the Shrines was not to be bested.  A nine piece band dressed in black, wearing voodoo necklaces, they leapt into gear with spooky keyboards, a tenor and baritone sax blaring, a buncha guitar and percussion, and a beardo drummer who looked like Dr. John the Night Tripper.

King Khan

Then King Khan himself jumped on stage, looking for anything like a young Indian fellow on his honeymoon, sporting a white jacket and red shirt with beads around his neck (found out later they were little shrimp), and carrying a ju-ju stick, flanked on his right by a very happy looking woman pumping pom-poms into the air.  And from the word “Go,” he ran from song to song and scream to scream in an endless and seemingly eternal flow of songs going from bayou to Stax to Motown, his hoarse-sounding masculine voice carrying the rest of the band’s energy along.

He dedicated almost every song to somebody: one to his wife, one to punk band the Spits, one to Arthur Lee of Love (“if you don’t know who he is, you’re probably ninety-eight percent asshole”).  As far as I could tell, they were nearly all originals, but the tunes had a classic feel that was more warmly authentic than anything the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or the Make-Up ever did.

It’s no surprise that Vice Records signed these guys.  Though Vice Magazine is well known for its nihilism and dead-eyed American Apparel date-rape chic, it’s label’s bands, such as Dark Meat, the Raveonettes, and dare I say it, even Chromeo have such a warm and human feel.  King Khan’s band had that kind of warmth, but ironically for a soul band, more of an international sound–there was something in their grooves that reminded me of the soul music coming out of Spain in the Franco era that cried out to be rock but wasn’t allowed.  And I swear at one point, King Khan did a laugh-chant-scream that was lifted directly from a song by Peruvian sixties rock band Los Saicos.

King Khan

But if the music was a little foreign, the wardrobe was extra-terrestrial, moving from seventies wedding suit to a gold Diana Ross dress, then a cape, then a slee-stack wrestling mask.  And as he picked up and put down instruments, random band members and background singers/dancers jumped on and off the stage in a chaotic and frenzied fashion, so that when the encore came, it was obvious things would have to be brought up a notch. 

And they were.  After running through a back-on-stage song, suddenly they all got down low like Otis Day & the Knights doing “Shout,” the sounds all got soft, and then, and then… the famous guitar licks of “Rebel Rebel” hit us, and we found ourselves watching one of the best versions of a Bowie song ever committed, the horns lapping up every tacky thing we ever put on.  Even after the band was done and the sound guy cut the mics, King Khan and the horn players meandered through the crowd, leading themselves out the back like a New orleans funeral band covering the last track off the Stooges’ Fun House.

The show was so amazing, it made me want to burn the retinal image into my eyes for all time and plug my ears to keep the sound from pouring out.  If you live in L.A., you probably already saw them, but if you’re located elsewhere, don’t let them come around and miss it.

King Khan don’t need no cheerleaders! But he has ’em anyway

King Khan don’t need no cheerleaders! But he has ’em anyway!