King Khan & The Shrines
October 16, 2013
In the first image that I ever saw of King Khan, he was caped, scantily-clad, sweating profusely, and wearing a plastic helmet that covered his face. This introduction to the prolific, Montreal-born entertainer came via a photo in, local weekly, The Stranger, and featured the showman fronting his Berlin-based psychedelic soul outfit, The Sensational Shrines. Even his band–who, themselves, were fully clothed–seemed to be having too good of a time onstage. Regardless, I still had no idea what they sounded like and assumed that they probably looked too good to actually be any good. At the time, I wanted nothing to do with it.
For this article, all that I had to do was review the group’s recent Seattle show at Neumos, but this turned out to be a little more difficult than I had expected. Apparently, the more that I like a band, the more meaning that I ascribe to sampling their fare, and the more likely that I am to imagine that there’s a ton of nonsense for me to write, or describe, about them. For example, being of East-Indian descent myself, Khan (born Arish Ahmad Khan) fascinates me as a rock n roll racial anomaly. It’s really easy for me to wonder about how and why the man chose to go the route of influences like Screaming Jay Hawkins and James Brown, or to question, whether or not, he feels, or has ever felt, the need to dress outlandishly, simply to be noticed in a sea of white-male rockers. And if so, how different does he actually believe that approach to be, compared to, say… Jack White using a candy-cane motif to garner attention for the blues music that he loves?
But, the only reason that I even think to consider these things, at all, is because Khan is genuinely skilled, and completely transcends such questions–neither avoiding nor directly addressing them with his work. Then again, maybe his work simply raises those questions, but that might be enough for me. Regardless, what he’s producing is great and thus, does a admirable job of bringing these topics to the forefront.
The Shrines appears to be comprised of a mix of seasoned pros from different parts of the globe. And while they mostly played songs from their new release Idle No More, the set had all of the melodic confidence of classic–and I mean truly “stand the test of time”–funk, rock n roll (and it’s more psychedelic sub-genres) and R&B. Throughout it all, they managed to maintain an authenticity, despite blatantly lifting ideas in whole, unadulterated chunks from those genres–anything from arrangement and song subjects, to structure and costume. If feels as if the show has been designed to distill what was best about each of those distinct, individual genres and present it all, as unassumingly as possible, through the utilization of great musicians–well versed in arrangements and capable of adequately “retro-fitting” them with the right chordal horn-blasts at the right moments–some non-ironic posturing, and dollops of enthusiasm. And as for that last bit (“enthusiasm”), they play as though they were all instructed, right before taking the stage, to “Forget what you’ve learned. Just throw it out and have fun.” And, to the horn section, specifically, “Just remember to sway your hips on that 3rd song…real slow, like.”
While The Brian Jonestown Massacre, a band that similarly retro-fitted itself, was the kind of brilliant chaos that maintained focus on the charismatic and prolific frontman, and resulted in giving birth to successful offshoot projects like The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for the talented backing musicians, Khan’s attempt at anything retro seems much different to me than that of BJM. These musicians might never even have any interest in seeking anything outside of Khan‘s band; they really do appear to be having too much fun.
The official website breaks down the lineup as follows “…includes Chicago-born, Ron Streeter (veteran percussionist for Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder), a horn section consisting of trumpeter Simon Wojan (member of Kranky Records recording artists Cloudland Canyon), tenor sax man Torben Wesche (Germany’s John Coltrane), and famous French rockabilly baritone saxophonist Frederic Brissaud. The rhythm section of the Sensational Shrines has been called a German/French version of the Freak Brothers – Till Timm on guitar, organist Frederic Bourdil, Jens Redemann on bass and drummer Mirko Wenzl.”
Streeter has not only performed with Stevie Wonder and the late Curtis Mayfield, as listed, but with the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, and Al Jarreau, as well. As for Till Timm, it seems that he truly understands the feel, tone, phrasing and spirit of anything “electric-guitar” before 1970; proving to me that there was a correct way to wield a Danelectro–a guitar rarely used in pop-music these days–in a world ruled by Gibsons and Fenders. I was only a few feet away from organist, Bourdil, by far the most energetic of the lot, who actually picked up his instrument and took it out into the crowd. And those are not lightweight keyboards; they demand commitment, both to the old, well-worn sound that they emit, and in the event that you decide, mid-set, to carry them into the crowd while still playing one.
And then there’s the bass-player…
While these guys are all terribly amazing, Jens Redemann truly stood out to me, quickly becoming one of my favorite live bassists, period. Versatile, great tone, loud, solid and (cleverly), not using a bass-sound invented before 1960–but rather, more modern ones that weren’t as thin–as though, to ensure that everyone was there to dance.
After their set had concluded, King Khan and his crew encored with a glorious Screaming Jay Hawkins lift of a song called “Shivers Down My Spine,” [Who else rips-off Screaming Jay Hawkins? And does it well? No one, that’s who.] It was a welcomed finish, as some in the crowd had been yelling for the track throughout the entire show, ever since opener, “Bite My Tongue”–the first single/video off of Idle No More. They definitely put on an impressive show, with all of the showmanship and energy that would warrant actually getting off your ass to attend one, but their music is definitely capable of standing on it’s own merits. And while the new release has remained in constant rotation on my turntable for the last few weeks, I’m truly looking forward to the next opportunity that I get to see these guys live. There’s a reason that they’re enjoying themselves. They weren’t the only ones having too much fun.