Loner With a Boner

Screw James Brown. The title of Hardest Working Man in Show Business truly belongs to Kid Congo Powers.

A key player in the early Los Angeles punk scene, Kid first found notoriety with blues revivalist Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the Gun Club, despite having never picked up the guitar before. Later, he served tours of duty as a member of the Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds before starting the theatrical Congo Norvell in the mid-'90s. Despite his laid-back demeanor, the man with the Cheshire Cat grin and mischievous laugh is rarely at rest for long, even if his activities don't always reach the audiences they deserve.

"The biggest question I'm asked is, 'What have you been doing since the Cramps and the Bad Seeds?'" admits Kid. "It's been 10 years since I was in the Bad Seeds and 15 since the Cramps. I know I'm obscure, but. . . . " To remedy this sorry state, he's compiled Solo Cholo, a forthcoming retrospective spanning 17 years of lesser-known recordings that highlight Kid's gifts as a vocalist and songwriter, not just a seasoned sideman and snappy dresser.

The set kicks off with the Knoxville Girls' cover of the Shangri-Las kooky '60s shimmy-shake, "Sophisticated Boom Boom." "I was a big Shangri-Las fan," says Kid. "The first time I was ever punished—when I was very, very little—was when the Shangri-Las were on TV. They were singing 'I Can Never Go Home Any More,' which is very dramatic, and they break down crying. I remember saying, 'Why is that bitch crying?'—using a word I'd often heard from my parents." He was sent to his room for cursing, "but I've loved the Shangri-Las ever since.

"And I always dreamed of having the kind of boyfriends they did," he continues. "Bad guys that they loved anyway." (And who, it must be added, usually died tragic deaths.) Speaking of boyfriends, Kid truly is a solo act right now. "A loner with a boner," he chuckles. "I am very single . . . and very available."

Another rarity rescued on Solo Cholo is "La Historia de un Amour," from his 1989 EP In the Heat of the Night. Created in an era when rock and dance music rarely intersected, the beat-driven "La Historia" features an A-list ensemble including Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), Barry Adamson (Bad Seeds Magazine), Steve Young (Colourbox, M/A/R/R/S), and Marcia Schofield (the Fall). "A lot of these records [I made] were totally obscure and unheard and, if I may say so myself, totally ahead of their time," he reflects.

For die-hard devotees, the real treat comes at the end, with "Plunder the Tombs" and "Headbolt" by Fur Bible, his short-lived collaboration with perennial goth hag Patricia Morrison (Sisters of Mercy, the Damned), from a 1985 single produced by the infamous Jim Thirlwell (a.k.a. Foetus). "The Fur Bible tracks were the one great humiliation in my life," Kid confesses. "I've always been pretty proud of everything I've done, but that was the first time I'd ever sung on record, and it was not a project close to my heart." After bowing his head in shame for 15 years every time someone mentioned it, he finally listened to the recordings again. "And I thought, 'Wow . . . this is really great.' The singing is really weird, and I like that."

Besides his latest band, the Pink Monkey Birds, which he describes as "very Lou-Reed-circa-Transformer-meets-Barry-White . . . at a Leonard Cohen concert," Kid has been busy recording and touring with notorious New York electronic mayhem-maker Khan. Despite their seemingly disparate backgrounds, Kid says they share an irreverent, punk-rock sensibility, as their two trashy collaborations on last year's No Comprendo bear out.

"I'm not really known as a vocalist," he says, "so it was interesting that an electronic musician saw me as a vocalist. And I'm always up for a challenge." They immediately hit if off, and are currently working on a full album together. "In his music and mine, there's always a sense of humor, a sense of sexiness—be it blatant or subtle—and a gay sensibility. Or actually, a very not-gay sensibility."

Audiences who showed up to see Khan with another collaborator, Julee Cruise, at Graceland last year were greeted with a demented cabaret debacle that suggested the bastard offspring of Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen weaned on too many Soft Cell records. Kid insists his live show with Khan is "an entirely different kettle of fish," albeit still pretty chaotic. "It's the most fun I've had on stage since the Cramps," he concludes. "Anything can happen. It's funny and wild and sexy and confrontational. And I am no stranger to confrontational people."

Kid Congo and Khan open for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at 8 p.m. Mon., April 22 at the Paramount Theatre.

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