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