Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds play with vigour despite mild Vancouver crowd

Kid Congo and pink monkey birds
Photo by Rick Marr

Cult guitar hero Kid Congo Powers and his band the Pink Monkey Birds returned to Vancouver with a feverish rock ‘n’ roll show at the Rickshaw Theatre last Saturday. Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, Strange Things, and the Vicious Cycles provided all-local support.

I arrived as Ford Pier Vengeance began winding down with their final three songs. In those several final minutes, I sometimes wasn’t sure if I listening to Ford Pier or Robert Pollard; the normally swashbuckling trio motored on with charged riffs like Guided by Voices circa Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand – but with far greater technical proficiency. Nothing wrong with Ford Pier Vengeance Trio’s usual pace, but I appreciated the change.

Any time a band makes me take out my earplugs, it’s a good thing – maybe not for my hearing but for the musicians.

Psychedelic garage-rockers Strange Things were irresistible as they thrusted themselves right into “Friends to Ghosts”. The sweet momentum of songs like this belied the band’s sharply dressed appearance: tucked-in shirts snugly buttoned all the way to the collar, bassist Robin Schroffel in a black an white polka-dotted top, and drummer Keith McCafferty with a Monkees-style mop of hair. Their tidal sound left a far bolder impression than their sense of fashion though, and thankfully, there was none of the kaleidoscopic lights or smoke machines that typically colour 60s “revival”/“throwback” bands who display more obvious visual and sonic nods to bands of generations past.

Greaser crew the Vicious Cycles tore things up as usual, making chopped liver of the crowd with songs like “I Got a Girl” and revving up the night’s energy with high spirited party anthems like “Good Times”.

Maybe I haven’t seen the Vicious Cycles enough, but unusual of them was when flames flared up on the Theremin and on the patch of stage floor directly beneath the instrument during “I Don’t Get No Kicks (Till I’m in Fifth)”. Meanwhile, as the totally controlled flame flickered, guitarist and lead singer Billy Bones soloed behind Theremin wizard Reverand Norman from atop a stack of amps and speakers.

It wasn’t until the Vicious Cycles left the stage that I surveyed the theatre to see how final attendance turned out. Shockingly, even as Congo, a former member of influential groups including the Gun Club, the Cramps, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, played on, the floor was never packed shoulder-to-shoulder. “What a crime,” I thought. But I didn’t dwell on other people’s loss; I was busy watching a legend work his wicked magic.

After easing in with instrumental set-opener “Nine Mile Blubber Pile”, he picked up speed with more cuts from their new album, La Araña Es La Vida: “Psychic Future”, “Ricky Ticky Tocky”, “Anything to Sell”. Standouts from the band’s previous album, 2013’s Haunted Head, also made it into the set, most notably the scuzzy, jerky “I Don’t Like It”.

The ultimate surprise (for those who don’t keep up with Kid Congo’s shows) was hearing the band’s treatment of the Gun Club’s “She’s Like Heroin to Me” and, as part of the encore, “Sex Beat”. “Thank you, Jeffrey,” Congo said after playing those classics from the Gun Club’s 1981 debut LP, Fire of Love.

Regardless of attendance, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds played with total skill and enthusiasm.

His charisma and charm never waivered. So make it a sweatbox next time, Vancouver.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu