Photos by Bogui Adjorlolo
I first saw The King Khan and BBQ Show at the now-shuttered Catch One nightclub in Arlington Heights when I was in high school. Even in its waning days, the unassuming gay bar/discotheque on Pico and 12th Ave. was an intoxicating sight, decked out in chipped pink paint, bewitching neon accents from a bygone era, and a disco ball as big as the Ritz. King Khan and BBQ emerged in their studded bondage gear and bleach-blond wigs, shredding through minute-long songs like contract killers in bedazzled codpieces. Kids climbed up walls, I got socked in the jaw, and that night, I found a new favorite band. Last Tuesday, I had the privilege of seeing King Khan and BBQ once again, this time at the El Rey on Wilshire. The experience was very, very different – but the show was still great, and I had a blast.
While the El Rey has long been a mainstay of touring indie acts, the venue’s red plush interior, velvet curtains, and ornate, colossal chandeliers gave off a markedly different vibe than that of the Catch One. The crowd was different, too. While the pit was full of kids, the perimeter of the theater was dotted with assorted grown-ups, some of whom had even dressed up for the occasion. A few (more “serious”) adults decided to bring their gin and tonics into the pit before the show began. However, once King Khan and BBQ kicked off their rapid-fire set, the amount of spilled liquor was enough to drive these injudicious souls off the floor. The pit belonged to us. King Khan and BBQ delivered a full hour of doo-wop-psychobilly-glam-punk, and their energy was palpable, in spite of the wallflowers. The music was familiar, but still chaotic and unpredictable. One-man rhythm section BBQ churned out a gut-rumbling wall of sound on his guitar whilst beating the shit out of his snare drum with a kick pedal. Front and center, King Khan delivered vicious renditions of melodies that Bobby Vee or Perry Como could have written. Throughout Khan and ‘Q’s repertoire, there are countless songs like “Invisible Girl” or “I’ll Be Loving You” that are sweet enough to slow dance to, but anarchic enough to start a riot. And of course, it is the music itself that makes moshing at The King Khan and BBQ Show so fun and so dangerous – the fact that a crowd can watusi one second, and knock each other out the next. Still, the aura is wholesome. Everyone at the El Rey last week – young and old, hip and square – was grinning from ear to ear. King Khan and BBQ are devoted to the power of positive rock ‘n’ roll, and their shows are, before all else, meant to make you feel good. Behind all the leather outfits and bawdy behavior, King Khan and BBQ celebrate self-identity and confident sexuality. A filthy tune like “Tastebuds” (Tastebuds, on my cock/So I can love you baby ‘round the clock) really normalizes taboo discussions of human anatomy, while the feminist revenge fantasy “Kiss My Sister’s Fist” (Well, I hope you’re an organ donor/‘Cause she won’t take no prisoners) is Khan’s warning to any man who thinks he can exploit women and get away with it. The music of King Khan and BBQ is loud and obnoxious and sometimes very weird, but ultimately, it is meant to uplift listeners’ sense of who they are. The band’s music, lyrics, and stage presence all work towards instilling a visceral belief that anyone can do anything.
King Khan and BBQ have been touring their 2015 album, Bad News Boys, since I first saw them two years ago. The costumes and songs haven’t changed, with the only difference being that they’ve graduated from unventilated nightclubs to a genuine theatre (that’s right, spelled with an “-re”). It’s always strange to see these rowdy club bands move to larger venues with more docile audience members, but at the end of the day, it’s also great to see Khan and BBQ make a few new fans and a few extra bucks. Khan has admitted that his on-stage antics aren’t what they used to be, but for my money, King Khan and BBQ are still one of the coolest live acts around. See them.
BLAKE WAGNER, INTERN