KING COBRA with Kembra Pfahler at Lee's Palace, October 31. Tickets: $7. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Any band that willingly subjects itself to the costumed queer freak punk insanity of Vazaleen 's Halloween edition has got to have some kind of suicide wish. For a good portion of the non-hetero population, All Hallows' Eve has the anticipatory sugarplum excitement of Christmas (like, they put up barricades on Church Street, à la Santa Claus parade, so the queers and the queens can strut their stuff freely). Any performer's gotta pack a pretty hefty wallop to command the crowd's attention when they're competing with art fag costume contests, games of bobbing for butt plugs, rivers of booze and porno projections.
The whole experience makes you empathize with hyperactive ADD tykes who've run out of Ritalin, so I felt for King Cobra , the new, gloriously grimy garage/metal/punk project anchored by drummer/vocalist Rachel Carns of the Need, guitarist Tara Jane O'Neil and bassist Betsy Kwo .
They eschewed the over-the-top dramatics of their fellow main attraction, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black's performance art grande dame Kembra Pfahler , who bookended King Cobra's set with deliciously campy interludes.
Instead, the punk rawk trio strolled onstage sans theatrics and let their rumbling bass lines, relentless drums and angular, feedback-heavy squalls of guitar do the work. In any other context, the clash between Carns's growl-yelp vocals and the band's low-end powerhouse would be entrancing.
But a weird mix meant that those idiosyncratic vocals were barely audible, and Kwo's cool gritty guitar noise was buried at the bottom of a bassy barrage. Carns kept disappearing between songs, but instead of filling the dead air, O'Neil and Kwo smoked cigarettes and tried to look tough during the protracted pauses.
I remember being blown away the last time I caught Carns at Vazaleen. Way back in 2000, when Will Munro was still throwing his word-of-mouth parties at the then divey El Mo , Carns and Radio Sloan donned balaclavas and fake facial hair and killed with the Need's jarring punk attack in front of a tipsily rapt crowd.
This time around I dug King Cobra's music, but I was even more captivated by local indie chick Melissa McClelland , who went incognito and won a hundred bucks at the costume contest with her genius White Pant Period ensemble. Think late-80s blindingly white high-waist jeans and ugly vest. Now think tampon failure.
That's the beauty of Vazaleen. It transforms everyone's high school humiliation into fun and profit.