KING KHAN AND His SHRINES as part of NeXT/PopMontreal-at-NXNE with Five Blank Pages (8 pm), City Field (9 pm), the Ride Theory (10 pm), the Two Koreas (11 pm) and Brutal Knights (midnight) at the Silver Dollar (484 Spadina), tonight (June 8) at 1 am; with Key Witness (9 pm), the Patients (10 pm), the Milky Ways (11 pm), Patrick Watson (midnight) at the Comfort Zone (480 Spadina), Friday (June 9) at 1 am; and with Bend Sinister (8 pm), Run With The Kittens (9 pm), PRIDE Tiger (10 pm), Sweet Thing (11 pm) and the Brown Hornets (midnight) at the Comfort Zone, Saturday (June 10) at 1 am. Thursday $8 adv/$10 door, Friday $7 adv/$9 door or two floors for $15, Saturday $10 adv/$12 door. Rating: NNNNN
When King Khan confesses that he's always dreamed of starting a 10-piece psychedelic-soul orchestra, I'm a bit taken aback by how ambitious yet specific that sounds. As if someone said they've always dreamed of knitting the world's longest scarf.
But not even a mile of the warmest alpaca wool could surpass the heat of Khan's realized dream: King Khan and His Shrines. The Berlin-based band is a visceral, costumed, voodoo-cursed blend of classic R&B and soul traversing the soundscapes of Curtis Mayfield, New Orleans funk, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and James Brown, but laid out in much rockier, pulpier, sweatier terms.
He started knitting the five-year-old band shortly after he landed in Germany. Before that, he'd busted his chops in the then non-existent (according to both Khan and promoter Dan Burke) live scene of his birthplace, Montreal, with nasty garage rock rioters and Deadly Snakes affiliates the Spaceshits.
But unlike the Shrines, the 'Shits had no shtick, says the King.
"That band was chaos. With the Shrines, I wanted it be sorta traditional but not so traditional to be sorta apeshit and wild," he explains from his Montreal pad a day after getting home from Chicago, where he played the Blackout Festival with ex-Spaceshit Mark Sultan in their more minimal King Khan and BBQ.
"The Shrines was inspired somewhat by the old speakeasy ideas people just getting really ridiculous and trying to bring that back in some way or another. So far we've been really lucky. People go really bananas."
Khan's got priceless tales aplenty of his orchestra playing a 50 Cent afterparty in Norway (Fiddy didn't show, though) and "crusty punks" smashing bottles and dragging out couches until management turned off the power at a venue they played in London. Ah yes, and then there's Spain.
"When we played there, sometimes people used to, like, get naked and start doing drugs on the stage, doing lines off the organ.
"I remember once in Spain there was this big mob that was dancing and they all sorta, like, rushed the stage. There was this ball of flesh roll-ing around the stage, which was really small, so we all had to be really careful.
"I think it was something like 15 people, all on top of each other girls and boys kind of all just feelin' each other up.
"It was beautiful."
A great philosopher once said that to command the beauty of a writhing fleshball, one must first travel many a road. Living testament to the expression, Khan would never have had the power to summon a Spanish skin orgy had he not first embarked on an epic journey of band assemblage.
Guitarist Mr. Speedfinger, first ordained, owned the bar across the street from where Khan lived and had been giving him free drinks since he'd been in Germany.
Khan made another speakeasy connection with John Boy Adonis. JBA played percussion and cardboard box with Khan in his first German-based band, the Jane Mansfield Orchestra.
"I met him at a bar. He looks like Charles Manson a bit. He was dancing really funny and I said, "Man, you should be in my band. Do you play drums? He hadn't played drums in five years, but we began to jam, at first just with me on my guitar, and it start-ed working out really great."
And you'll never guess where he met phenomenal percussionist Chicago-born, California-based Ron Streeter, who in the past has supported Stevie Wonder and Al Jarreau live.
That's right. "I walked in a bar and he was playing percussion while this DJ played Latin music, and he had a fat red trucker hat on and congas and maracas and all this other crazy percussion stuff I'd never seen before.
"I didn't know where he was from. He could have been from Africa (and I was really drunk at the time), so I was talking to him really slowly: "Hel-lo! I... play... rhythm and blues... music!'
"He said, "I gotta go to the bathroom,' and ran off. He was in there for, like, 20 minutes, an hour, half an hour.
"I'm like, "Shit. I gotta give this guy my number.' So I went to the bathroom and put my hand under the toilet stall door and said, "Dude! Here is my number! You should call me! Don't wipe your ass with it!' Then he started laughing. '"
By the time members Big Fred Rollercoaster (a baritone sax player from the south of France), go-go dancer (of course) Bamboorella, horn players Ben Ra and Sam Francis-co (whose young ears Khan personally wrestled away from Sonic Youth and over to Little Richard) joined, original bassist Volker Zander had to leave. Things had gotten busier for Zander's other group, a certain Calexico.
Ever resourceful, Khan enlisted another German buddy whom he may or may not have met in a bar.
"I asked my friend Riddiman, who's a truck driver, to replace him. It was really funny, cuz on the day I asked him he'd just found a bass in the garbage. By some weird coincidence, it's the same model of bass that the Dirtbombs were using a 1961 Hofner bass. He found it all fucked up in the trash and got it out of there and used that for most of our early recordings."
Those early, trash-Hofner-infused recordings, Three Hairs And You're Mine (2002, Voodoo Rhythm), Smash Hits (2003, Vicious Circle) and their split 12-inch with Detroit garage rockers the Dirtbombs, Billiards At Nine Thirty (2005, Sounds of Subterrania), are closer to Khan's heart than their latest release, this year's Mr. Supernatural.
Says Khan, the new disc marked their first time in a big, professional studio, where they concentrated on meticulous production.
"It came out all right," he says grudgingly. "I guess it was an attempt to go for the Curtis Mayfield sound. But I prefer the dirtier, nitty-gritty analog sound that we get when we head to the studio and hammer it out after one or two takes and not spend months going, "Uhh, I wonder if we could do it like this?'"
He says the Shrines will hit the studio again this winter, but before that (around September) the new (probably untitled) King Khan and BBQ album will come out on In the Red.
That disc, which was recorded in Khan's Berlin home, will live up to the Khan aesthetic: raw, raw, raw.
But as opposed to the duo, King Khan and His Shrines are hard enough to contain in real life, much less on record. You can totally understand why balls of flesh form wherever they play.
"What we try to do is basically a very high-energy explosion of soul and nitty-gritty R&B. I guess I've always sort of thought of the show as the whole snake-charmer shit. With the music and with the dancing, we try to invoke the spirit of people kind of getting hypnotized by this ridiculous thing and then eventually losing all control."