At Electric Owl on Monday, May 12
In retrospect, it was grossly unfair to assume that Connan Mockasin would live up to expectations. Or, more accurately, his YouTube clips.
If life was like an art-rock video, Mockasin would have arrived on the Electric Owl stage with a coterie of makeup-smeared faux clowns straight from the nightmares of John Wayne Gacy. There would have been ponds full of lily pads and floating lemons and gold-gilded hot tubs filled with the kind of women most mere mortals will never see half-naked.
But those expecting a full-blown spectacle had to settle for something considerably less theatrical. Like, for example, the backup guitarist’s crushed-velour shirt, matching pants, and cobalt-blue robe ensemble. Or the leopard-print fez perched on the head of the keyboardist, who may or may not have been a Russian mail-order bride.
Evidently determined not to be outdone by those around him, Mockasin also took the opportunity to play dress-up. The New Zealand singer—who looks like a cross between Kurt Cobain and Philip Seymour Hoffman—sported an outfit that Ian Faith might describe as an Australian nightmare. Offsetting his tangled mop of yellow hair were Sultan of Brunei–issue lime-green pyjamas and a vest borrowed from the Maori answer to Chief Dan George.
Mockasin wasted no time getting with the common people. As the band did its best to re-create the first half of the criminally overlooked Ron Jeremy-endorsed Pornosonic, the singer-guitarist climbed off the stage and sat cross-legged in the middle of the dance floor, easing into a psychedelia-lite solo. The audience—surprisingly large for a Monday night—loved it.
A solid and blissed-out connection made, Mockasin then climbed back on the stage and turned in one of the strangest shows of the year. The singer is an odd one, to the point where, 30 years from now, people are going to describe him as clinically fucking nuts, as opposed to endearingly out-there.
He finished songs with Mandrake the Magician hand flourishes, giggled periodically as if he’d just told himself the funniest joke, and generally stared off into space like a man on some other plain. He also tends to sing in a whisper, none of these things bothering anyone in attendance.
In fact, the Electric Owl audience was onboard the whole night, doing the Bonnaroo boogie when Mockasin dabbled in downtempo funk-rock (“Do I Make You Feel Shy?”) and paying fevered attention during stoned-to-the-knockers dance jams (“Megumi the Milkyway Above”). Even though the singer sometimes ruined things by bleating like a goat or making exotic bird-call noises, there were also some sublime Ladies Man R & B panty-removers on offer, the best being the helium-voiced “I’m the Man, That Will Find You”.
By the time Mockasin approached the finish line, things has drifted into a strange soft-rock world where the only thing missing from Electric Owl was a dirty orange-shag carpet, a couple of beanbag chairs, and a macramé plant holder hanging from the ceiling. And not in a good way.
Things did eventually swing back around, though, the evening ending with an all-out on-stage dance party. Anyone who wanted in was more than welcome, the only catch being that they take off their shirts and show some skin. There was no shortage of takers, with a good two-dozen fans givin’ ’er to the extended freeform workout “Forever Dolphin Love”.
Predictably, Mockasin quickly faded into the background, dreamily lost in his own world.
Almost hijacking the night was opener Kirin J Callinan, whose appearance combines the best of “Weird Al” Yankovic, the karate-obsessed older brother from Napoleon Dynamite, and the mullets from FUBAR. The singer projected a vibe of full-on psychosis, most evident when he screeched “Shut the fuck up!” at those chattering away in the bar lineup. He proved to be a master of genre-jumping, flitting from sewer-borne death metal to neon-nights dance pop. And he has great backing musicians, including a surgeon’s mask–sporting, long-haired bassist who looked scarily like the girl from The Grudge.
If the kung-fu kicking Callinan was the one you couldn’t take your eyes off of during the “Forever Dolphin Love” dance party, you weren’t alone.