Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds

At the Railway Club on Friday, November 17

The ’80s were a boom time for dissolute romantics who mingled traditional American music with scuzz. Their reference points included barrel-scraping B movies, true-crime novels, and a whole universe of postwar junk culture. Kid Congo Powers was wingman to some of the best of those trash aesthetes: the Cramps before the rot set in, the Gun Club right from the start, and Nick Cave in the period when his genius bloomed. Powers distinguished himself through a guitar style that relies heavily on tone, texture, and mood, and at the Railway Club on Friday night, there was enough reverb gushing from his small Fender amp to form puddles around the feet of the 40 or so awestruck Vancouverites who came to see a legend up close.

Powers looked absolutely extraordinary in an elegantly threadbare grey suit, emerald loafers, white shirt, and unruly hair parted reluctantly to the side. His close-set eyes, equine nose, and child-bearing lips also deepened the effect; he’s the very picture of ancient Times Square ghetto glamour, and pure rock ’n’ roll, looking alternately like a grinning hit man and a bit player from a porno remake of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Big Apple’s lurid past seemed to provide the subtext to most of the music, too, and the explicit references to 42nd Street in the hustler-romance “Johnny” (“He’ll make you feel big in the pants”¦”) made for a particularly strong evocation of NYC’s Deuce when the streets still ran with jism and bad speed.

Although Powers threw in a couple of Gun Club numbers—an instrumental version of “Mother of Earth” and a captivatingly unagitated take on “Sex Beat”, both of which caused the audience to foam at the mouth—the balance of the show was almost all originals, and in each case, the walking-bass patterns and ride-heavy drums established an appropriately sleazy vibe, strengthening the connection to a ghost world of go-go dancers, flaming creatures, and hookers with hearts of cigarette ash. The trio was given a perfectly unfussy mix, its relative quiet helping to illuminate all the tiny ?revelations coming from the Pink Monkey Birds’ rhythm section, whether it was bassist Kiki Solis getting dubby on “The History of French Cuisine” or drummer Danny Hole’s precarious journey through “The Weather the War”, which is built on a tom workout hitched to a bizarre time signature.

In all cases, Solis and Hole provided a stupendously good foil for Powers, allowing him to drop the guitar altogether occasionally or concentrate on a little electronic box that sounded like a sick Theremin and that brought a pawnshop dimension of exotica to Powers’s vicious breakup song “The Last Word”.

It all ended with a properly languid version of the Shangri-Las’ “Sophisticated Boom Boom”, which also provided the most indelible image of the evening: Powers, dancing with himself on the floor in front of the stage, vamping it up without a hint of self-consciousness, and talk-singing his way through the tune like the last neon-lit queer beat poet (barely) standing.