Revivalism, not retro: Review of King Khan and the Shrines at the Orange Peel

King Khan has been through Asheville with his other band, the King Khan and BBQ Show, several times, but Thursday night at the Orange Peel was the first time he performed here with his soul review, King Khan and the Shrines. While the King Khan and BBQ Show are a bare-bones garage rock unit feeding from punk rock, doo wop, and Chuck Berry, the Shrines are a full scale psychedelic soul combo, ten members on stage taking their cues from Mitch Ryder, free jazz, Stax/Volt and James Brown. Khan entered the Orange Peel stage wearing a white suit, his trademark military-music-man hat, a gold cape, a voodoo bone necklace, and carrying some kind of soul shaman stick.  Stripping these away for the first song, “Land of the Freak”, he started started in the spirit of Otis Redding and continued building through a number of styles, from the French vocals of “Les Filles De Jacques Dutronc” to the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cackler “Shivers Down My Spine”.

Unlike some soul reviews I’ve seen, King Khan and the Shrines didn’t seem dated or particularly concerned with trying to recapture the exact aspects of a bygone era. This was revivalism without being retro — the show and the music seemed fresh and modern. It’s not like the ideals that soul music and rock and roll express — communal fun, entertainment, stories about sex and poverty, and other vital aspects of the human condition, ever go out of style.  They’re a genuine soul review, tight but not uptight, with every member of the band projecting a real sense of fun and musical community on stage. They don’t let the need to get things exactly “right” overwhelm their sense of fun, but their musicianship and enthusiasm for the songs kept the soulful spirit alive and building through the show. Even when the horn players didn’t have a part to play, they remained crucial to the show. On the exuberant “I Wanna Be a Girl”, where every band member grabbed maracas, shakers, and tambourines and ran around the front of the stage, chanting the ridiculously catchy chorus and inciting the moderate sized OP crowd to as much frenzy as they could muster.

The show wrapped with a version of the Saints’ “Know Your Product”, which, with its blazing guitar riff, cool soul horns, and cryptic shout-out asides, is tailor-made for Khan and the Shrines, particularly in its anti-materialism message. The Shrines’ records, particularly the last full length, What is?!? project a sort of social/sexual fauxtpian vision that’s only half-kidding, and when most of the opening act, the Golden Triangle joined the Shrines on stage for the encore, which included a skronk-out on Sun Ra’s “Space Is the Place”, it was hard to deny Khan’s vision of a better world through getting down.

Brooklyn’s Golden Triangle, who’ve been spinning around the Khan and BBQ orbit for a couple of years now, were also funny and fun, with a similar visible love for playing their music together. They’re a very peculiar looking three-boy three-girl line-up whose sound invoked Talking Heads, early B 52’s, a little Bow Wow Wow, and other not quite pop bands from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The six piece calls out for one truly distinctive instrumentalist to make their slightly arty, droning pop-throb really fly. I suggest the blonde guitar player give in to his impulses to play more lead guitar. I sometimes preferred their concept to their songs, but most of my reservations evaporated when they covered the greatest minute long song in the history of rock and roll, Redd Kross’s “Annette’s Got the Hits”.

— Whitney Shroyer, music writer

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