King Kong takes Uncle Pleasant

by Bob Bahr

Looking from my Wild Turkey to the stage, I heard Charles Ives and saw a thin guy singing guitar and playing nihilistic lyrics. I was a satellite looking down on a river valley, a groove simple and deep. It looped around every six or seven measures like a snake eating itself. Don't tread on me.

Backstage before the set, I see King Kong struggling over their playlist, their new numbers. I see Ethan Buckler painstakingly working out the more difficult vocal passages, and contemplating the chord structures he could employ during his third solo. My mind becomes a split screen video (a true child of technology) and I also see reality: the members of King Kong joking with Mark Smalley and downing small plastic cups of Little Kings. It's showtime.

Bass, guitar and drums, melding together, Brown-Hall-Thigpen, Vicious-Jones-Cook, Bruce-Clapton-Baker, Chuck D.-Chuck D.-Chuck D., Tito-Jackie-Randy, Father-Son-Ghost, all the power trios of fame. In front of me, Rapa-Buckler-Schuler. Melodic figures Lennie Small could understand.

Through the window just left of the stage, punk drone comes. A coda of "I Do Not Give a Shit/I Do Not Give a Shit/I Do Not Give a Shit." King Kong, bigger than life, their anger and despair smaller than life. Pop of death. Noteworthy for their single-mindedness. A short, wire-rimmed critic with a squeak of a voice whispers in my ear, "But they are good musicians, and they could do more. They restrain themselves and the result is pure punk."

Somebody's cheap Carlton assaults my eyeballs. On the back of my lids pressed tight, the music flowing through my cavernous, earlobe-bookended channel paints a picture of the stage. Safety pins, stoned red eyes, torn shirts, drunken bobbing of upper torsos. A skinny drummer has his shirt off, and his sweat-soaked hair is whirling and banging against a swollen brain. Opening my eyes, I'm fascinated and startled to see three near-mannequins strumming well-kept instruments, slight grins on their faces. The lead singer is bug-eyed, looking straight ahead, paying homage to David Byrne. Punk pop in the '90s is played by top-buttoned art students amusing themselves to no end.

King Kong swings an invisible watch on a chain, chanting in a monotone "Anything but that/Anything but that/Anything but that." Perhaps somebody killed the dog that belonged to Agent Orange's lead singer, and hung the carcass in a Cherokee Park tree. Wild banshee cries coax dancers to the floor. Does one thrash to this? No one seems sure. Those in the crowd in the know laugh out loud.

The groove from "I Know I'm Losing You" is vilely lifted in the first serious act of plagiarism. "I Don't Care Anymore" is played brilliantly. Buckler perks up Prince and Michael Jackson's interest with some mysterious dance moves. Knee up, knee up. Knee down, knee down. Look one way, look the other.

"He looks like a chicken."

"What?"

"He looks like a chicken."

Oops, he slips into key. This situation is immediately rectified by Buckler. "I'm a businessman," he wavers in surf punk lingo. A guitar solo painstakingly researches the root of the chord. And only the root of the chord. For spice, plunks the fifth. Happy in his discovery, the fifth note is played again. And again.

The more tuneful depart for other establishments. My friend, who plays a convincing Pastorius and Blanton, stalks off shaking his head, his Bud swinging low in his right hand. King Kong insanely delves into "Sex Machine."

"Get up-ah/Get on up/ STAY ON THE SCENE." Some do. The vocal stylistics are outrageous. Consider it a treat. Consider it a private fantasy. Buckler smiles and enjoys the joke. The evening threatens to turn ugly, with the Kong looking in their mikes a bit too seriously.

"Ready for the bridge-ah/Get on the bridge." And there was no bridge. The band members looking at each other imploringly, hoping someone had the bridge and would pull it out of their pocket, slap it on their strings, share it through the wonders of sound waves and amplification. Have you seen the bridge? I can't find the bridge. Where's that confounded bridge?

We can take no more. Everyone loves a good joke, but no one likes a joke that is told every ten minutes. We retire to confront a specter from Loretto, Kentucky. And King Kong conquers a two store house on Preston Street.