Drop a Grand is predictably unpredictable. While the band is no longer shifting genres as it did so regularly during its infancy, and its membership has settled to a stable quartet, nearly every show features one or more peripheral players that wash a new color over the performance. On this night the paint came from the two-piece Horns of Manitoba (offering trumpet and baritone) and Ricardo Mejia (on washboard. Yes, washboard). While the former seldom made their blasts heard, the latter was completely unamplified, and evidently intended to serve as a visual element rather than an auditory one. As a result, Drop a Grand was simply Drop a Grand: big riffs, metallic leads, rumbling bass, yelping vocals, and interdimensional boogie. The audience got the "hits," but my ears didn't discern any new left-field covers that the band often performs once and never returns to again. [Aside: was it a dream or did the band really play "Billy Don't Be a Hero" once?] In fact, the zany elements of the band (save the standard disguises) were somewhat muted as the audience didn't hear much from either the guitar-wielding frontman Gern Blanzden or bassist Unikron. Instead it was a thirty-minute set of rock 'n' roll that remained unexplainably straightforward and simultaneously fractured. Expect the unexpected.
I'm not sure what band should bridge Drop a Grand and Kid Congo, but by any measure The Whiffs are an odd choice. An odd choice that I appreciated entirely. The power-pop foursome came out fresh from tour, carting a twelve-song setlist that brazenly avoided anything from its lone album. But the band skipped around that setlist, only offering up seven or eight of its two-minute, revved-up pop songs. Cuts like "Now I Know" and "I Don't Wanna Know" (that's a pair begging for a double A-side if I ever heard one) have been part of the band's live set for years, but the remainder of the set was new, just trotted out of the studio for a bit of exercise. The band was tight, and the new material solid — especially the songs written by lead guitarist Joey Rubs — but something about the performance was off. Generally, bassist Zach Campbell and guitarist Rory Cameron are joyfully frivolous, ready with quick comments, and rife with jokes only funny to someone who has logged a few hard weeks in the band's odoriferous tour van. But not tonight. Despite playing to the dozens of friends and fans that lined the stage, the band just wasn't having a good time. What gives?
That all changed with the appearance of Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. Kid Congo Powers (not better known as Brian Tristan) has been a staple of the underground scene since the late '70s, playing in genre-defining bands such as The Gun Club, The Cramps, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. However, it's Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds that allows the frontman to really let his flag fly. Dressed in a baggy suit with a blonde shaggy wig that he could barely keep on his head, Powers led the foursome through a set of primitive rock 'n' roll, Chicano garage rock, and psych-infused punk rock. The set highlighted songs from the recent 10th anniversary repressing of Dracula Boots, but skipped around enough to cover a variety of periods and moods. Between each song Powers would make some dubious statement, and through a leap of logic, twist that musing into an introduction for the track that followed. Often bassist Kiki Solis or guitarist Mark Cisneros would be roped into the entertaining string of stream-of-conscious insanity. The audience liked what it heard, dancing throughout the band's nearly ninety-minute set, twisting and vibrating in an attempt to match the bent strings and trippy tremolo of Powers' guitar. One encore led to another until Powers pulled out his ace, driving the band through "Sex Beat," just as he did with The Gun Club 38 years ago. Maybe not entirely unexpected, but it was a satisfying finale for a glorious night of dirty rock 'n' roll.