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12155Clip: Kid Congo Powers and Deliberate Strangers in Pgh tonight

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  • Carl Z.
    Oct 12 6:15 AM
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      Kid Congo Powers
      Scary Monsters

      Writer: ED MASLEY

      Kid Congo Powers has bailed on more cool bands than most guitarists
      have a prayer of joining. At 21, he left the Gun Club for the Cramps,
      then quit the Cramps to rejoin, establishing an off-and-on pattern
      with the Gun Club that persisted until the death of longtime friend
      and head deviant Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Later, he found himself living in
      Germany, adding his distinctive sense of style to several classic Nick
      Cave and the Bad Seeds records — before walking out on that group,

      "I think sometimes your work is just done," he explains, with a laugh.
      "And I don't care about this whole thing where you have to be a band
      for, like, 100 years. What's that about?"

      He'd still be playing in the Gun Club, though, if such a thing were
      possible. Unlike the Cramps or the Bad Seeds, the band's deadly blend
      of rockabilly, punk and blues was partly his vision. When Pierce
      convinced Powers (then still known as Brian Tristan) to put the band
      together after they bonded over Pere Ubu, he couldn't even play an
      instrument. But that didn't stop the Cramps from asking him to sign on
      roughly one year later, just in time to play on their amazing
      Psychedelic Jungle.

      Asked if he still thinks he made the right decision, Powers points out
      that it all worked out in everyone's best interests.

      "The Cramps were an established band," he says. "And the new guy in
      the Cramps came from this band that was loved by [Cramps founders] Lux
      and Ivy. So the Gun Club got the stamp of approval. And then, they
      managed to make an absolutely amazing record." Powers isn't on that
      record — the acclaimed 1981 Fire of Love — although he did contribute
      to the writing, having been in the band, as he puts it, "up until 10
      minutes before the recording."

      While they never sold as many records as the Bad Seeds or the Cramps,
      the Gun Club's legend may be burning brighter now than ever. In part,
      it's a case of the kids being given a healthy shove in that direction
      by the Gun Club-loving White Stripes. But none of that would matter if
      the music didn't live up to the hype.

      "It's like my generation and the Sonics," Powers figures. "Suddenly,
      you hear this, and you're just like, 'Ohmigod, what was that?' That
      kind of rawness and passion, it's magic. It's like when you listen to
      Fun House. Every time, you're just like, 'Oh my God, this is
      incredible. I've only heard it 10,000 times and it feels like I'm
      listening to it for the first time.' And I think it's just because it
      was a howl from deep within."

      There are some constants, Powers says, between the three bands people
      tend to think of when they hear his name (although he's also played in
      Die Haut, Congo Norvell, The Knoxville Girls and roughly seven billion
      other projects).

      "All three singers," he says, "were incredible singers that some
      people may say were horrible singers. All three had a very strong
      vision of what they wanted their music to be and a very strong vision
      of otherness. And there was no compromise," he says. "I was watching a
      Gun Club documentary and there was so much of 'Jeffrey was difficult,'
      'Oh, he ruined everything.' "He was a monster.' But you know what? All
      of the people I've worked with are monsters. Anyone who doesn't
      compromise is viewed as a monster. That's something I've learned to
      admire and try to instill in my own approach to making music."

      Powers' latest project finds him narrating, not singing, at the helm
      of his own band, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. The first
      release, Philosophy and Underwear, is something Powers proudly calls
      "my own little New York album," populated by the kind of seedy
      characters you'd find in one of Lou Reed's better songs. And now that
      the record's finished, he's quit New York, his home of 10 years, for
      Washington, D.C., to write a book about his life.

      "I think I've done enough," he says. "I think it's time for some
      reflection on it all. I keep so incredibly busy, it's always the next
      thing, the next thing, the next thing. So that's gonna be my next
      project: reflecting."

      Then, without pausing, he adds, "But I'm sure I'll be making some
      music as well."

      Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds with the Deliberate
      Strangers and the Crow Fly Trio. 10 p.m. Thu. Oct. 12. 31st Street
      Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $10. 412-391-8334 or