FestivalMusic

Kid Congo Powers confidently lets his freak flag fly with the Pink Monkey Birds

In an email to set up an interview Kid Congo Powers wasn’t sure what day it was.

Now, when we finally connect it takes him a second to remember exactly which city he’s in.

“I’m very, very on tour,” he says with a laugh. “It’s actually a good sign because I was always the tour manager, taking care of all of the logistics and was hyper-aware of everything all of the time and now in my old age my band members have become mature adults and I’ve been able to delegate that to someone else.

“I’m having my late-in-life, don’t even think about where you are just do what you’re doing on tour time.”

He was in Oakland, by the way.

And now the man born Brian Tristan 60 years ago will make his way to Calgary for a trio of Sled Island shows with one of his current projects Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey Birds.

It will be their debut performances in the city and among the most highly anticipated of the fest.

But, again, ask Powers if it will mark his first time in the city and, well, that’s perhaps a more difficult question to answer

“I can’t for sure say no,” he says tentatively. “In my memory, no. This might be a first. You never know, I could have come with Nick Cave, I could have come with The Gun Club — it’s all a blur.”

It must be, when you consider Powers has one of the most intimidating resumes in alt music history.

He was a founding member with Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the seminal L.A. post-punk act The Gun Club in the late-’70s, having various stints in and out of the band over the years and before Pierce’s untimely death.

During one of the out, he joined psychobilly originators The Cramps, his guitar work appearing on some of their classic albums, Psychedelic Jungle and the 1983 live recording Smell of Female.

And for the latter half of the ’80s, Powers was a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, appearing on a pair of albums — Tender Prey and The Good Son.

There’ve been other projects, and collaborations, his guitar an in-demand instrument, with it all leading to him starting up the Pink Monkey Birds in 2005. That album, Philosophy and Underwear, was more of a launching off point for Powers, a first step in becoming more comfortable with the role, more sure of the direction he wanted to take it.

“It took a lot of trial and error, that’s for sure,” he says. “But obviously, I’ve learned from the best.

“And that can be an intimidating place because you’re held to that high standard. At least when we first started I felt like, definitely press wise, I was definitely held to a high, high standard when I had something that wasn’t as greatly formed as anything I’d been in because I was in all of those bands and doing all of that music, but those people were the visionaries of that music.

“Well, The Gun Club was partially my vision, the other ones I was more of a collaborator and decorator of other people’s music.

“So to find my own voice, just like Nick Cave or Lux Interior (The Cramps) or Jefferey Lee Pierce, the vision was there, but the skill had to come.”

One of next steps in that was getting some new Monkeys — the band now consists of Kiki Solis, Ron Miller and Mark Cisneros — and honing that sound, which contains elements of all that Powers has done the past 40 years but distilled into something that is wonderfully weird, cool and cohesive. Voodoo garage rock with some L.A. Chicano and twangy country sounds rubbing its underbelly.

Another step in the building of Powers’ frontperson and lead songwriter confidence was “epiphany of sorts” he had watching The Cramps on their last tour.

He admits he hadn’t seen them in years and was stunned.

“My jaw dropped when I saw them, like I was when the first time I saw them,” he says. “It felt like, ‘Oh, my God, this is from outer space, just insane.’ And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, it’s three chords, a guitar, a bass, a drummer and a singer. It’s nothing avant garde, it’s nothing too intricate.’ And then I realized it’s them, it’s just them being themselves and that’s the complete otherworldly thing about them …

“So music, even though it’s just 12-bar blues rock music takes on this otherworldly thing. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been part of that and I actually know how to tap into that.’

“So that set me off on a really amazing piece of confidence and the direction of just be yourself, don’t try to be like anyone else … Let your freak flag fly.”

He and his bandmates have done that for a quartet of more well received records since then, including their latest tasty effort 2016’s La Araña Es La Vida and, the album Dracula Boots, which they’re currently celebrating the 10th anniversary of.

Expect to hear a healthy dose of those albums over the three Sled appearances, with Powers promising that each show will be something all its own.

“We mix it up,” Powers says. “We say hello to The Cramps and Gun Club. Don’t worry, it won’t be a jazz odyssey.”

He laughs, continuing the Spinal Tap quote. “ ‘This is our new direction.’

“No, we stay true to the roots, yes, and the muse.”

Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey Birds perform Friday, June 21 at 11:30 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 (main floor); Saturday at 11 p.m. at the Ship & Anchor; and Sunday, June 23 at 8:30 p.m. at The Palomino (downstairs). For tickets go to sledisland.com.

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