Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds / The Vicious Cycles MC / Strange Things Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, May 7
Published May 08, 2016The rock was strong at the Rickshaw this night. With "Strange Things are happening" projected on the dual screens that flanked the stage, paisley fractals sparked from every riff of the psychedelic Vancouver quartet. Keeping true to their name, Strange Things made the weird choice to have bassist Robin Schroffel in the middle of the stage, even though she sang and moved about the least, compared to the light swagger of guitarist Stephen White and the decent showmanship of frontman/guitarist Kyle McQueen, while Keith McCafferty plugged away unassumingly on drums. Having Schroffel at the core made them look a little stiffer than they were, given that they were solid instrumentally, producing the kind of decent fuzzed-out dynamics one would expect from the likes of Ringo Deathstarr, Holy Wave and other card carrying members of the Reverberation Appreciation Society.
Switching gears, the Vicious Cycles MC were blazing hot in so many ways. Greaser frontman Bronco James (aka Billy Bones) was forced to ditch his token leather jacket a few minutes into their set, which wasn't surprising given how committed he was to selling his band's brand of powder keg rock'n'roll, like Dick Dale and his Del-Tones taking their hot-rod surf style into full-on punk mode for a spastic '50s prom at Whisky Crank High. Later, as if it wasn't warm enough, keyboardist Norman Anderson (aka Reverend Norman McFuzzybutt, the Ghost Tickler) lit his Theremin on fire for "I Don't Get No Kicks" to stunningly dramatic effect.
Vicious Cycles were hot metaphorically speaking as well. Rounded out by joke-slinging bassist Rob Wright (Beardo), hard hitting drummer Jared Anderson (J-Rat), and fireplug guitarist Nicholas Thomas (Nick the Knife), the quintet weren't content to let their songs merely exist — they drove the pulse of their brisk tempos with tireless pep.
Despite the heat in the room, the attendance remained undeservingly underwhelming for a legend such as Kid Congo Powers to appear. Born Brian Tristan, his imaginative guitar work appeared on some of the finest recordings from the Cramps, the Gun Club, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when those bands were at the height of their power. His reputation alone was deserving of a Peter Murphy-sized crowd, and his performance sealed it.
As Tristan draws near to the end of his 50s, he has also reached a creative peak. With a resume like his, it probably shouldn't be surprising that 2016's La Araña Es La Vida, the seventh album in his Pink Monkey Birds catalogue, is as strong as anything else to which his name is attached, but it takes a rare confluence of skill, motivation, and opportunity to pull something like that off so late in the game. To be sure, Tristan and his band worked for their achievements, and their work is paying dividends.
With the Pink Monkey Birds consisting of six-string bassist Kiki Solis, drummer Ron Miller, and guitarist Mark Cisneros, the whole band looked like they stepped out of a time machine. Though Miller sat humbly in a button-up shirt, Solis and Cisneros both wore full suits complimented by bushy sideburns, while Kid Congo dazzled in thickly pinstriped suit topped with a kind of Russian fur hat variation. Importantly, the men wore the clothes, and not the other way around.
Tristan was hamming it up before they even started playing. He had worked the merch booth between bands, taking photos and giving hugs and handshakes to anyone and everyone who came to show their appreciation, and when it came time to soundcheck on the fly, he made his requests for various styles of vocal reverbs sound orgasmic. This patter seamlessly blended into a thought about Dylan possibly or possibly not being an admirer of Donovan, and how a Donald Trump rally in Seattle almost made them late for the gig, which served as the intro for the swampy slide guitar of "Nine Mile Blubber Pile."
Kid Congo peppered his performance with the most amazing facial expressions (imagine Rick Moranis doing Rodney Dangerfield impressions), while his cosmic banter provided links between songs that would make Monty Python blush. These kinds of antics are often used as a short sell by many bands, but Congo and company backed up the swagger all the way. They were tight as a dolphin's butthole in bringing the majority of La Araña Es La Vida to life alongside a few choice catalogue selections, most notably a cover of the Gun Club's "She's Like Heroin To Me," the title of which Congo amusingly said he had heard in the notorious alley behind the Rickshaw.
Their rendition of "Chicano Studies" got a dance party going so swinging that Jack Rabbit Slim would give an award to it. "Ricky Ticky Tocky" hit the rambling Thee Oh Sees sweet spot, while one could hardly imagine the '60s-era Rolling Stones dropping anything more compelling than "Coyote Conundrum," pleading for "real" good times. For fans of timelessly scuzzy garage rock, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds are as good as it gets.