Khan all pimped out, making love all over that mic.
Arish Ahmad “King” Khan has earned his moniker.
As garage rock’s second or third or fourth revival edges closer to the mainstream, King Khan has risen to the occasion as the movement’s scantily clad, skull-capped guru. Between his work with bands of Montreal’s late-90s-early-oughts heyday (most notably punkers the Spaceshits—a band known for frantic fifteen minutes sets that would end in food fights or out-and-out band vs. audience brawling), his spin-off project with Spaceshits frontman Mark Sultan (The King Khan & BBQ Show), collaborations with Georgian psych-rock revivalists Black Lips, and media gawking garnered for grinding his ass in Lindsay Lohan’s face, it seems like you can’t swing a friendly fist around a garage show skank pit without hitting King Khan.
This would all be very annoying—especially because the Berlin-based Khan’s boom in popularity has much to do with VICE Records issuing a Best Of comp, and VICE is a godless hipster Moloch that devours scenes and doesn’t care, and blah blah blah—were it not for the fact that King Khan still puts on a pretty amazing show. And he’s never better than when he plays with his (Sensational) Shrines.
Though Toronto has seen plenty of Khan in recent years, many of the dates have been given over to the two-man romper-stomping of the King Khan & BBQ Show, a group whose self-consciously stripped down primitivism and boffo costuming are a far cry from garage rock’s more sincere stripes.
Looks fun, huh? It was!
The Shrines may be comparably outlandish (there are still plenty of on-stage theatrics and backstage costume changes), but it makes more sense considered within the parameters of the group’s neo-James Brown Midnight Special-on-PCP dynamic. And anyway, not everyone can be The Oblivions, right? It may have been a bit tamer than Khan shows circa three or four years ago, but it was still great. And from where we stood last Friday night, it looked at lot like this…
11:19 PM: The great thing about shows that can be passably considered to be “garage rock” shows is the audience. Eclectic, man. The more obvious cool kid quota is mitigated by scores of flannel-clad schlubs, heavyset dudes in faded MC5 tees, old guys attempting to hide their receding hairlines under a Bic-bald shave, and sweaty young men in sweatshirts and trench coats they’re too lazy to check. Also: hot babes. Lots of hot babes.
11:23 PM: Character-draining renos and tacked-on burrito stands and new murals notwithstanding, Lee’s Palace remains one of the best venues in the city. That it’s basically a poor man’s Opera House is precisely why. What’s more: it’s packed. Like super-jammed. It was even pretty full for opener Gentleman Jesse and His Men (who were great). It seems like there are even more people here than there were for The Gories show in July. Does that make sense? Can it be the case that more people care to see garage’s latest, showiest, most soulful incarnation than the bare-ass jive of Mick Collins and Co? Eh, of course it does.
How come more bands don’t have dedicated dancers?
11:28 PM: Lovers on the moon, it is hot in here! Should have checked the ol’ trench coat.
11:33 PM: The Shrines take the stage, more-or-less on time, in trademark black-on-black clothes with shell necklaces that look like they were pilfered from the set of The Flintstones movie. A swell of guitar noise and organ drone is filled in the brass section, bleeding into a tambourine-dotted “Jazz Odyssey” style jam. All of this appropriately sets the stage for…
11:37 PM: King Khan! He takes the stage dressed like some kind of blaxploitation (er, brownsploitation?) movie pimp—feathered cap ‘n’ all. The band opens with “Outta Harm’s Way.” Very good. This all seems to be in order. Except, what’s this? Khan is playing guitar? Won’t such a silly accoutrement restrain his rock wildman antics?
11:42 PM: Oh whew. Okay. He ditched the guitar. It’s gonna get sloppy!
11:45 PM: Time for the horn-y (that is to say, featuring horns) funk of “Land of the Freak,” a song which poses an important question of the higher order type: is there another municipality more suited to rock lyrics than Kalamazoo?
11:48 PM: But really, who cares about “youth culture”? Kids don’t actually care about anything. And even if they did, a scene like this would exceed it. This isn’t about affiliation or flitting around the periphery of the rock underground. This is solid R&B. It’s the kind of music you could probably play for your dad. You know, assuming that your dad is comfortable with lyrics about transgenderism and the emphatic use of the word “motherfucker.”
11:50 PM: “Took My Lady to Dinner” has got to be one of the better odes to the Big Beautiful Woman, ranking right up there with Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls,” Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom,” and the Mozzfather’s “You’re the One for Me, Fatty.”
This dude was elevated for a few seconds before the fickle crowd grew tired of him, returning him to the floor amongst the rest of the plebes.
11:54 PM: “Welfare Bread” seems an odd song to attempt to crowd surf too, but hey, it’s a party, right!?
Also, not to harp on how tame Toronto audiences are, but come on. Back in the day, Montreal crowds used to tear each other apart at Spaceshits shows. Like blood and broken glass everywhere. Now people just kind of bop around and nod their heads and the kids blithe enough to thrash around are made to look like goons, lost in a sea of whatever-somethings too caught up in their own cool.
Looking at it from a certain angle, it’s hard not to feel like the whole thing is some eager parody of what a proper garage rock show should look like. This audience can’t even sustain a crowd surfer for longer than fourteen seconds. Maybe they’ve been ruined by all the hand-clapping feel-goodery of Arts and Crafts groups and all these alt-folks bands and whatever. Rock and roll can still be a thing, guys.
12:03 PM: “I Want to Be a Girl.” Another great tune. They’re working through all the hits tonight.
12:10 PM: Is King Khan drinking a fucking Perrier on stage? What is this? There better at least be some gin it, for chrissakes.
The King bows before his sweaty, beflannelled subjects.
12:17 PM: Sparkling water or no, the frigging guy knows how to whip a crowd into a frenzy. How does an Indo-Canadian guy named Arish Khan so compellingly pull off the call-and-response gospel choir thing?! This rules.
12:21 PM: Some dork in a tie-dyed shirt and mesh-back baseball cap is on stage, basically acting like Cornholio. He tries to crowd surf but thumps to the ground within like two seconds. Seems as good a way as any to end a concert. The band says their adieus and exits stage right.
12:25 PM: And here comes the encore. Organist Fredovitch cues up the synth line from Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.” Is this just the new de facto garage song? (C.f. also: The Gories.) If so, okay! Enter King Khan, now wearing a gold cape and military headdress. He doesn’t appear to know the words to “Ghost Rider,” apart from saying “Ghost Rider” again and again, and the “America, America, is killing its youth” part. Come to think of it, that’s basically the whole song.
12:28 PM: An extra-loose rendition of “No Regrets” is still a great “No Regrets.” And makes for a fine encore. Goodnight, everybody!
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.