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Legendary Gun Club and Cramps sideman Kid Congo Powers makes solo mark with 'Dracula Boots'



Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds with Willie V. and Gandhi Hospital
9 p.m. Monday
the Conservatory
8911 N. Western

If you don't know who Kid Congo Powers is, you should. From the late-'70s to mid-'90s, he played guitar for seminal punk acts The Gun Club, The Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. His untrained style is wild, vibrant and joyous, informed by rockabilly, blues and punk pioneers like The Velvet Underground and T. Rex.

It's a trashy, understated and sometimes swampy style fueled by a playful innocence that the performer, born Brian Tristan, has translated to his own band, Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds.

While initially inspired by the 1970s' glam movement, Powers' greatest influence was The Cramps, whom he saw in 1978 after taking a Greyhound from Los Angeles to New York to witness the punk explosion firsthand. One show was all it took.

"It was funny and dangerous and sexy. Kind of stupid, but really smart and knowing in another way. It was every great thing you wanted a rock band to be," he said.

Playing music was never really Powers' intention. It all kind of happened when he met late Gun Club front man Jeffrey Lee Pierce outside a Pere Ubu show in L.A. in 1978. Both were underage and drinking while waiting in the ticket line. They happened to be standing next to each other, and soon struck up a conversation.

Pierce had started a Blondie fan club; Powers, a Ramones one. Before long, Pierce invited Powers to join his new band, although Powers couldn't even play an instrument. Pierce offered to teach him guitar.

After playing the sideman for 25 years, Powers finally decided to start his own band. There had been other short-lived acts he'd led over the years, but they always fell by the wayside, perhaps in part due to his own lack of confidence about his direction.

He'd written some solo material over the years, which he collected on 2005's "Solo Cholo" with other odd tracks from his other bands like the Knoxville Girls and Congo Norvelle, and collaborations with artists like Lydia Lunch and Barry Adamson. It wasn't until 2006's "Philosophy and Underwear" that he made his proper debut with the Pink Monkey Birds.

"I didn't really put out full-length stuff until I felt like I had something," he said. "That's definitely when I had a real clear idea about what to do. That was my homage to all different styles of New York music that I always loved: solo Lou Reed records, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, no wave."

Powers' follow-up, last year's "Dracula Boots," is even more assured.

Jagged guitar writhes like a teen's hormonal pulse, chasing funky imaginative tales down a rabbit hole worthy of Alice, whether recounting how "I Found a Peanut," swaggering through a rockabilly rave-up dedicated to "Black Santa."

"I take it very seriously, but I also want a sense of humor. Evoking a strong mood, really, but at the root of the strong mood " even if it's a sad, heavy or noisy mood " it has to still be uplifting," he said. "I like mixing styles: modern and old, this and that. The question is: Does it speak its own language? That's the key to all these things going back to when I saw The Cramps. You realize this is its own thing." "Chris Parker| photo/Mell Turbo

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