King Khan and The Shrines live in New York
- By Leanna Orr -
- Aug 06, 2012
The last time I saw King Khan he was naked in a hotel room shower with his dancer, Miss Pussycat. (Long story.) So needless to say, I had high expectations of his Bowery Ballroom show with The Shrines. And I wasn’t the only one. Joints - and then security - appeared before Khan.
“You get a drag before the man shut it down?” the lanky hipster beside me asked his just-busted buddy. He did. And I’m sure he didn’t regret it when King Khan took the stage at a few minutes past eleven o’clock.
The man is a sight to behold. Feathered headdress, sparkly gold tunic, white linen pants and a splendid Buddha belly I would recognize anywhere. Khan, on his guitar, and the hairy, inexhaustible seven-piece Shrines opened with the brassy ‘Outta Harm’s Way,’ setting a brisk pace for the rest of the show. Most of the set (wisely) pulled from the group’s excellent 2008 album ‘The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines.’ Khan racked his guitar for the second song, ‘Land of the Freak,’ a surf rock-saxophone love child that set girls’ hips shaking. ‘Welfare Bread,’ Khan’s pledge that “you don’t have to pay your bills anymore now / You just gotta eat my welfare bread,” arrived mid-set, and the audience dug in.
Absurdity ruled the evening - the crowd had bought tickets, after all, to the Land of the Freak. Khan’s dedications went out to “all the big ladies out there” and “freebasers and junkies,” then “deaf girls” got a shoutout, as well. But while novelties littered the performance - Khan and his guitarist climbing down and playing in the crowd, for instance - the songs sounded nearly identical live as the album. Suspiciously so, in fact.
During one of the band’s new songs, ‘Luckiest Man,’ Khan occasionally stopped to catch his breath…but his voice kept singing. It’s a very physical show, and I don’t begrudge the man a breather. But backing tracks have no place at a King Khan gig. Their presence demonstrates the show’s critical flaw: falsity.
There is a scene in the shamefully underrated 2010 film 'The Runaways' where Joan Jett, still a wide-eyed high schooler, finally snaps from the pressure and abuse doled out by the band’s domineering manager. Jett loses her shit in the recording studio, reaching the intensity in a screaming match with her manager that he’d be driving for in their performance. He keeps pushing until Jett smashes an instrument and storms from the studio an authentic rock star, mid rock star tantrum.
I’m not only digressing to push the film: it’s the moment where Jett, one of four barely-legals in a manufactured band, becomes her stage presence. And, having seen King Khan many times before, I saw him make the opposite transition at the Bowery Ballroom. He just seemed tired, a guy worn out by too many shows and too many days on the road. There’s nothing manufactured about King Khan and the Shrines—who would imagine a clutch of middle-aged men in shark tooth necklaces playing R&B, and think, “What a swell idea!” No one, except Khan, his Shrines and anyone who’s seen them play. It’s ridiculous fun to watch a caped Indo-Canadian man in gold panties get his freak on, howling, “I wanna give a shout out to the deaf girls.” But, fair or not, you want him mean it. Otherwise, a wild rumpus in the ‘Land of the Freak’ dissolves into burlesque—and not the sexy kind.
After just under an hour of playing, Khan followed a robust encore culminating in ‘Torture’ off ‘The Supreme Genius.’ He came back into his own on that final song, as if it compensate for the first 90 per cent. But even with his heart in it, Khan looked all night like he’d rather be tucking in for a nap. I don’t think even Miss Pussycat could have roused him into action - or the shower.
Photos by Hazel Sheffield
This guest blog complies to Virgin.com terms & conditions.