King Khan was far less animated and wild than he can be on the 9:30 stage Wednesday night, but his voice was in top form, his Shrines were live, and it was a show that rivaled Lucero's ridiculous, alcohol-fueled beautiful disaster of a couple of weeks ago.
His mid-'90s band mate Mark Sultan, who still records and performs with Khan as his BBQ one-man band, warmed things up with a stripped down version of the same kind of retro garage rock of the headliner. Sultan manned the rhythm guitar and drums with help from a guitarist and bass player, and he showed off a terrific voice, more classic than Khan's but not as rangy. His accompanists took a break for Sultan to before the King Khan and BBQ Show song "Waddlin' Around" and proved that while another guitar and some bass help flesh out the sound, Sultan doesn't really need anyone on stage with him.
Khan's eight-piece backing band -- nine if you count go-go dancer Bamboorella -- warmed things up with a haunting, jazzy, world-beat intro, but they promptly kicked up the adrenaline when Khan joined them on stage, tearing through "Land of the Freak." With a drummer, percussionist Ron Streeter (who's played with Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau and Curtis Mayfield), a three-piece horn section, organ, bass and a terrific guitarist, the Shrines make the most authentic sounding retro music around. At times, there was boogie rock reminiscent of the early Stones ("No Regrets"). At others, with the organ and horns taking control, it was like watching the JBs ("Land of the Freak"). And the Vietnam-era guitar sound ("I Wanna Be a Girl") is dead ringer for the guitars on the "Good Morning, Vietnam" soundtrack. It all sounded four decades old, until the guitarist would shred and remind the audience what year it is.
With Khan mainly serving as a singer -- with that range that can jump from effeminate to deep and spooky (witness his Vincent Price-like laugh on "Shivers Down My Spine") to a piercing wail to a soulful croon -- and not a rabble rouser, Bamboorella earned her keep, though that pole dance with the mic stand was the most awkward thing I've seen on the 9:30 stage since Loretta Lynn sang a love song duet with her son a few months back. With eight other players, there's plenty of time for guys to not play, abd jump around baiting the crowd instead.
A late show on a rainy Wednesday night, the 9:30 Club was comfortably empty -- OK, maybe about half full -- but most bodies were moving. Like that Lucero show, this is the kind of band and the kind of music that can illicit an actual response from the crowd, unlike the hipster head bobbing D.C. is notorious for.
Early best of 2009 list: 1a. Lucero, 1b. King Khan and the Shrines.