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Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds - Dracula Boots

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Artist: Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds

Album: Dracula Boots

Label: In the Red

Review date: Jun. 2, 2009

Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds - "Funky Fly" (Dracula Boots)

Ten years ago, I was in the middle of of a three-day marathon of live garage rock, one that included both its twangy antecedents and punky derivatives. In an attempt to pace myself, I left for pizza. It seemed safe to skip some of the younger bands, just as long as we got back for the legendary act on the bill that night – biker soundtrack rockers Davie Allan and the Arrows. When we returned, Allan wasn’t on stage yet; a five-piece was in full roar, organ and slide guitar tangling in a wall of sound. We stood transfixed as they built it louder and louder. I developed a pit in my stomach, the feeling that I’d just missed all but the end of the best set of the weekend. When the noise collapsed into silence, one of my friends said he was pretty sure he recognized the guitarist, probably from when he lived in Detroit. He went up to play the name game. But the guitarist wasn’t from Detroit. Buckling his case shut, he nervously and politely said, "I’ve been around for a while. I go by Kid Congo."

He’s not a household name, but given the context, we sure felt dumb. As an early member of the Cramps and the Gun Club (and even an early Ramones Fan Club president), Kid Congo Powers is one of the New Wavers who brought rock back to its basics, a guitar hero whose playing got by on attitude long before he’d accumulated skill. Certainly more of a legend than Davie Allan.

But he’s never been one to force his way into the spotlight, preferring to work from the shadows. He was a Bad Seed when Nick Cave was expanding the band’s minimalist sound toward the epic. He sang in the choir of the crime-jazz founding document, Barry Adamson’s Moss Side Story. At my show, he was in the short-lived Knoxville Girls, which included fellow gutter dwellers from Pussy Galore and Honeymoon Killers. Pick up the cheesy 2006 compilation of electro, Berlin Insane IV, and between all the distorto-bassline Eurodance, you’ll find Kid Congo. And he’ll tell you all about dogging a leather-clad cliché of a chick in a "rent controlled apartment off Tompkins Square." That couplet is rhymed, naturally, with "underwear."

Thirty years on, Dracula Boots is just his second full-length as a front man. He did another a few years ago, and in between, there was a compilation of his sundry appearances on others’ records. When he does vocalize, it’s somewhere between a purr and a growl, narrating time honored subjects like eating stuff off the sidewalk, or yeti women. But there’s not a lot of singing.

Ever the sideman, Dracula Boot isn’t even a guitar showcase. Kiki Solis’ bass is the foreground instrument, plucking out Motown rhythms, as the guitar splatters eerie and distant post-punkish texture. While those textures, along with some sizzled MIDI noise, place this in the present day, it’s mostly a dance record in the mold of early-1970s funk like Ike Turner or the Meters, only produced by Vincent Price.

The funk here is impressive in the way it avoids funk-rock clichés. There’s no scratch guitar or slap bass or drum breaks or hi-hat abuse. But it moves. Even when it’s just a cold, slow tremolo, it moves. Save some fuzztone crashes, it’s not much like the Cramps or Gun Club. There’s none of the country feel of the Knoxville Girls. There’s no big Bad Seed soundscapes. This is small room stuff. Next time he surfaces, it’ll probably be different. But for now, Congo’s made a moody, black-hearted little disc. With a big booty.

By Ben Donnelly

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