If not music, then the scene Kid Congo Powers, aka Brian Tristan, is most into is “the silver screen”. The legendary musician, best known for his work in The Gun Club, The Cramps, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, states: “I like film noir. I’m a big fan. Going on a crazy, film noir binge lately. I’m watching everything I can from all over, from all over the world. French film noir is particularly great.”
Powers didn’t need the name of our magazine, What’s My Scene, spelt out. He knew the Hoodoo Gurus’ song it was inspired by. In fact, the Gurus were one of the first bands Powers toured with on his first visit to Australia with The Gun Club in 1983. In fact, Powers recalls that first visit as “something else for two reasons. I hadn’t been in The Gun Club. I had just left The Cramps. There wasn’t much of the last version of The Gun Club except for Patricia Morrison. I was asked, ‘Can you get on a plane for Australia to play with us, like, tomorrow?’ I was like, ‘Okay, I’m coming.’ So (the first thing) I was kind of not at all prepared but it was an incredible experience, to learn that so many people that I know now, (I met) at that time. That was the Wild West. I’ll tell you. And we did a lot of driving all over the place up and down the coast and went to some crazy towns. And we saw the giant banana. It was so cool. It was boasted saying it was the world’s giantest banana replica. And then we saw a giant orange, as well, off the highway. Australia really likes these giant things. These giant statues of bananas and … we didn’t see the giant koala. I would love to see it one day.”
The second thing was the experience of performing in a land which had taken to punk rock with heart and soul. He states: “I mean it was the first time that I was in wonder that there were punk rock prostitutes of both genders. You know? I was just like, ‘Wow! This is a wild punk rock scene!’ Not anything like … no, it kind of is like Los Angeles when I thought about it for a minute. And we had a tour that, because of all the mishaps and things, we were scrambling around for money. We weren’t making a lot of money. We did just the wildest shows. One was at a place called The Strawberry Hill. But the Hoodoo Gurus opened the show. They were providing us with equipment. They’re a great band! And they’re cool people. Yeah, and still … still great. So, we had this wild, wild shows that were like way oversold and people outside. They were crazy and I remember people came on stage, the artists and people on the stage, and this was long before the crowd surfing phenomenon. But if that had happened, that would have happened. But yeah … So wild and crazy.”
Powers continues: “Spencer P. Jones who was in the ad hoc version of The Gun Club on that tour. He introduced me to a very, very young cool looking cat named Tex Perkins. Who was just but a child in 1983. Really he was super young and they were about to record the first Beast of Bourbon actually that week. And I was almost going to play on it but then I had to go back. I missed being on it. But when I met Tex, I was like, “Oh this guy’s so charismatic! Wow, what a figure. That kid’s gonna go far!” And he did!”
Acquaintances turned into longtime friendships and Powers states: “ I love my Australian class of 1983. I would love to play with Tex again but he’s always so busy. But, I always grab them to come on stage. Actually Tex sang Sex Beat with us In one of the suburbs of Melbourne. And Kim Salmon is gonna play with us.”
Powers continues, “I did some recording with Spencer and Kim Salmon with The Pink Monkey Birds. We haven’t done anything with the recordings yet but maybe we can do some more. I’ve known Kim since the Scientists’ early days, The Gun Club, we took them on one of their first whole tours.” Powers jokingly states that he is a “talent scout”, but in the same breathe, he doesn’t take praise. He continues: “It was actually more that Kim was very tenacious and wrote me a letter and told me that was gonna happen. He was really ballsy to write this letter and actually sent me a cassette and the music was amazing. I was like, ‘this guy is tenacious; let’s take him!’”.
Musicianship is one aspect of playing live. Another is style. Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds have loads of style. Powers says he “does [his] best”. He continues: “We used to be much more uniform than we are now. You know, we’ve done the denim look, another look and then that look. We wore mariachi outfits. We’ve done a lot of things. But, yeah, everybody works on their own style that they like. They’re all stylish cats.”
Style, as well as skill, is at times a prerequisite for joining a band. Powers states: “That’s how I got picked to be in bands like The Cramps and the Bad Seeds. I think it was the clothes.” Laughingly he continues, “As you would imagine. For The Cramps I was very, very young. I was playing guitar for one year and they really found a novice that they could mold to their image. And so, for me it was an incredible learning experience. I couldn’t believe what was happening, you know? I was just a fan of the band at the time. The Gun Club had just started with Jeffrey Pierce … and had a certain influence from The Cramps in the beginning. Definitely showed us a way to marry different music genres together and make it your own. That experience was great. They were very much my mentors. I think they knew I was very green around the gills as for playing and had never really had much experience. So they were really glad to show me their experience and they let my freak flag fly so to speak. And I learned how to play, really, much better. I mean my playing wasn’t rudimentary all the time. Experience-wise it was amazing because it was fun and wild and it showed me to be completely uninhibited, how that can be. Unleashes the maverick in you. And they had a very special brand of inhibition, no inhibitions.”
Powers continues: “But, yeah, it was magic. It was definitely magic. And the strengths of having a lot of rhythm. When I was in the band it was just the two guitars and drums. They didn’t even have a bass player at the time. And so, just rhythmic. Magic, ritual, rock and roll. And that was my first learning. I first learned with The Gun Club, making stuff up as we made it up but The Cramps it was … there was already a made structure. That was incredible. And then later in the Bad Seeds it was an incredible experience. I had moved out of my country. I was living in England and then moved to Berlin where the Bad Seeds were living. And, again, I had to learn … because they played a very different kind of music. It was very uninhibited. But it was a language I knew already and I think they knew I was up for that and I think Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds picked people who are already in their own cosmos. And Nick and Mick Harvey, they let the band members do what they were gonna do to whatever song they came up with. So that way it was a really another big learning experience because The Gun Club and The Cramps were all very rock and roll, bar blues, just rock format, a pretty standard rock format, if rock came from outer space. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had a different kind of format, same roots but different formats that were vocally led or piano led. It wasn’t bar blues normal, but blues was in there as well. It was incredible experience really. Invaluable.”
Touring back in the 1980s was different mainly due to technology and the audience but what doesn’t change is Powers’ respect and love of the music and the audience. Powers states: “Times were different. There was no GPS. There was no GPS or cell phones. Use a map and hope you got where you were going. I mean, it was different times for sure. I think the climate how rock and roll and coming out of whatever, punk rock, post punk and know for the times. About into the mid ’80s. Times were different. Audience was a really big, middle ground audience. You could be not so famous but have a lot of people come. And people were going to see everything. Now with computers not so much. We were wild people. I was so drunk I can’t remember. But, I mean, I’m very much the same. I mean performing is performing. It’s always giving that 120% and that’s what I learned from those bands is that there’s no, there’s no not doing it all the way and that the vision that got us there and you have to play to the vision and the muse. And to betray that was not even in the conversation”.
Yeah, for the audience, I learned from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Cramps and The Gun Club that playing was serious and sacred, an event to take place. And people have paid to come and see you. I’ve always understood it to be something higher than just playing songs and that what we were creating was a sort of magic. The muse was everything and that you should never betray the muse. I’ve heard Nick say that actual thing. But it makes sense to me. And so, it’s always rock and the same thing that it is a sort of sacred music and a sacred ritual of playing live. So, you know, we have fun, joke, we have fun, we make it great. But, you don’t give less than 100, and 200, and 300 and 700%. That’s in the DNA of me and The Pink Monkey Birds.”
Be sure to catch Kid Congo & The Monkey Birds give 700% on their Australian tour:
THURS. 10 MAY ADELAIDE – CROWN & ANCHOR FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/154291521888673/
SAT. 12 MAY MELBOURNE – CROXTON BANDROOM, – http://thecroxton.oztix.com.au/?Event=82058 / FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/182843608964690/
FRI. 18 MAY SYDNEY – OXFORD ARTS FACTORY, FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/869457693229013/
SUN. 20 MAY – BLUES ON BROADBEACH MUSIC FESTIVAL, BROADBEACH: -http://bluesonbroadbeach.com/
More DATES ADDED for Melbourne:
Sunday 6th May @ Cherry Rock (Kid Congo Powers DJ set) Tickets here
Thursday 17th May @ Caravan Music Club. (Full band plus special guests) Tickets here
PRESS PLAY & PBS FM PRESENTS Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds ARE BACK!!!
After two sell-out Australian tours, legendary voodoo guitarist for seminal sexy bands like The Cramps, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and The Gun Club, Kid Congo Powers returns to Australia in May 2018.
Bringing back a heady mix of fuzz guitar, New Orleans drum beats and bass lines dripping with soul, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds “cast garage-surf-spaghetti-western-retro-futuristic magic”.
Be sure not to miss one of rock n’ roll’s true legends.
Sunday 6th May @ Cherry Rock (Kid Congo Powers DJ set)
Saturday 12th May @ Croxton Bandroom. (Full band plus special guests) Tickets here
Thursday 17th May @ Caravan Music Club. (Full band plus special guests) Tickets here