Monday, February 26

Animal Was My Favorite Drummer

A couple of weeks ago I did a "quick hit" impression of the new Dalek album, scheduled for release tomorrow (to recap, don't get it). In that short bit I mentioned the late, lamented New Kingdom. This caused me to throw their two albums in the player and reminisce, and prompts me today to tell the story of me and New Kingdom.

I first heard them mentioned by Del The Funkee Homosapien; somewhere he said their upcoming debut was "mind-blowing". This was enough of an endorsement for me to buy it on release without hearing a note (I used to do this all the time - read an article, hear someone say it was great, and I'd pick it up. I can't imagine doing that nowadays – it is just so easy to hear a snippet, a sample or a whole track on a band's website or some random blog that the sense of surprise is gone. Of course, it means I'm not paying cash for crap, but I also miss that revelatory moment of discovery. I still love "Touch Me I'm Sick" and "Schizophrenia" for that more than any other reason). The album Heavy Load was what I hoped it would be, and the opener "Good Times" was the perfect psychedelic variant to the Beasties "Rhymin and Stealin", complete with Bonzo-esque pounding and in your face growling. It wasn't a rap-rock hybrid (they weren't going to be on the Judgment Day soundtrack), but a hitherto unexplored idea; heavy rap. The inspiration wasn't then current metal, but heavy funk and stoner psychedelia from the early seventies; Funkadelic and Hawkwind jamming, with Mushmouth doing ubbi dubbi freestyles out front. "Cheap Thrills" (their ode to marijuana) with its circular bassline, subdued rhodes electric piano and wah-wah guitar, is crying out for black lights and mushrooms painted on velvet. Laser Show, here we come!

Somewhat surprisingly, they put out a second album in 96 (I can't imagine they made Island much money), the even more incredible Paradise Don't Come Cheap. It starts off harder, heavier and more intense than its predecessor, with bowel-shaking bass and a horn section made for menace; "Mexico Or Bust" roars like a bad-trip version of Tom Wait's "Singapore". The Funkadelic influence is still strong, but more in little sonic touchstones (the Eddie Hazel inspired guitar on "Big 10 1/2", for example) than in the overall jammy spaciness of the first album. Whereas Heavy Load was an acid trip in a desert (Lizard King comparisons not intended, though they do mention the Doors), Paradise Don't Come Cheap is PCP paranoia in an urban dystopia, cramped and oppressive and right on the edge of lashing, desperate violence. The psychedelia is no longer friendly and strange, but instead veers into the territory of the Butthole Surfers, where the revelry is in how uncomfortable you feel. The vocal distortions are thicker and muddier, another signpost pointing to Gibby Haynes and company.

Luckily for me, they toured on this album (I don't know if they worked Heavy Load on the road, and information on the net is sparse), and made it to DC, my home at the time. So I talked my wife into going to some record store in Silver Spring for an inexpensive outing (I think $8-10 for the both of us). Opening were two bands I didn't know - Handsome (about a year prior to their sole release) and the Red Aunts. The 70-odd people there seemed pretty disinterested in the openers, though Handsome were good enough live for me to get their album - very tight and intricate rhythms, with some interesting guitar work counterpointing and weaving in and out of the bass and drums. Terry Date did his usual overproduction on their album and lost all the Fugazi-esque treble and tension they had live. The Red Aunts were incredibly amateurish, just the garage punk ravings of some loud poseur women. They even apologized for sounding so bad saying they were like, so wasted and stuff! Gack.

Then New Kingdom took the stage, cramming at least eight people on what couldn't have been much more than a 10'x12' three-foot high riser. They even had a dancer, their own Bez (whether he was also helping in the chemical department I don't know), complete with an "Intel inside" sterile suit and ass-length dreads. They started sloppy, and sounded like they were too fucked-up to care; but as they kept going, they found a groove, and it was heavy as hell. They slowed down some things even further (the aforementioned "Cheap Thrills" and "Unicorns Were Horses", which was downright dirge-like), and changed "Co Pilot" into an end times rave-up that goes right over the cliff they walked so carelessly on the edge of on the album. As the show went on, the blurring of band and audience rose, with band members stepping off the riser to move and groove with the small but adoring crowd. The hazmat dancer stripped as the show went on, his dreads becoming a cat-of-nine tails, whipping and slashing both the audience and his bare chest and back like some medieval penitent. Down to a well-filled thong (I didn't want to notice, but he came close to rubbing it on my shoulder from the corner of the stage), he at one point ended up on his back on the floor, twitching and shaking and singing along, truly ecstatic. I've never seen anything like it - not the best concert on a musical basis, nor the most mind-blowing, but it was the most organic, communal show I've ever seen.

I do wish that they had lasted longer, and gone further, than the two albums. As it stands, the albums have not dated like their chart toping contemporaries (Doggystyle and 12 Play in 93/94, The Score and All Eyez On Me in 96), and those who have tried to explore a similar landscape (say, Dalek and some of the Def Jux and Anticon contingents) haven't found that special blend that made New Kingdom so great. But the two albums are pretty easy (and cheap!) to find used these days, so though there may not be a replacement it is still a glorious thing to relive the past.

For your viewing pleasure (though it doesn't hold a candle to what I saw and experienced a few years later), the only New Kingdom I found on YouTube:

1 comment:

Alex in NYC said...

"CO-PILOT CO-PILOT CO-PILOT CO-PILOT!"

Used to love that fuckin' record.