Sometimes bad luck leads to good rock – witness a carnivalesque gig from soul-garage rockers King Khan and BBQ at a cozy folk club in one of Ottawa’s toniest neighbourhoods.

Once upon a time Mark Sultan and King Khan (then known as Blacksnake) terrorized clubs in Central Canada as part of nasty Montreal garage rockers the Spaceshits. After The Spaceshits’ inevitable implosion on a European tour, Sultan went on to drum in Les Sexareenos and as a one-man band under the BBQ marquee, while Khan stuck around Berlin, forming R&B showband King Khan and His Shrines and recording for the Voodoo Rhythm label.

A few years passed and the dynamic duo got together again as the King Khan and BBQ Show – they put on a great performance at Babylon in 2005, released an album on the Goner label - and were slated to open for the Detroit Cobras on their North American tour, including a date in Ottawa.

Unfortunately, King Khan and BBQ soon found themselves booted off the Cobras tour (harsh words and bizarro Internet screeds followed this parting of the ways). Then the Cobras were barred from Canada due to visa troubles.

Thus, it was with gloomy thoughts that black-leather-and-Cuban-heel-wearing Ottawans contemplated Nov. 20. Where once there was rock, now there was naught. But wait! Deprived of a show at the gilded and mirrored Barrymore’s (capacity, 330), Khan and Sultan arranged to play that Monday at Irene’s – a snuggly club more familiar with acoustic blues jams, country and folk than the pawn-shop guitar rock of the terrible two. As an added bonus, Montreal rockabilly one-man band Bloodshot Bill also showed up for an unannounced performance. This may be because he too has encountered visa problems (namely, not having one) and consequently faces a five-year ban from the U.S.

Out of this chaos was borne ... more chaos.

Local trio Four’n’Giv’r kicked off the bill, probably because drummer John Westhaver was the last-minute promoter of the show, but it was a good fit, with the band crunching out its bent Velvet Underground update to considerable effect. Khan himself hit the nail on the head when he compared them to Simply Saucer, a 1970's Canadian band noted for its high-octane combination of the Velvet Underground and early Pink Floyd.

Then Bloodshot Bill made his unscheduled appearance. There are a few devotees of rockabilly who seem able to tap the wigged out soul of its most far-out 1950s practitioners – folks like Charlie Feathers – but none to the uncommon depth that Bill musters when he starts ripping and snorting on a cheap guitar while he bangs out a rhythm on a bass drum. An old friend of Khan’s (and maybe a brother, cousin or neighbour depending on who you believe).

Anyway, the two have a rare affinity, which may explain why Khan spent some of the set crawling around Bill’s drum kit recording him with a tiny digital camera (appropriate lighting was provided by a Bic lighter).

This mischievousness was repaid with some beer spritzing during King Khan and BBQ’s own show, which was an impressively bacchanalian hoedown.

The crowd demanded encore, he provided some drawn out owoombopaloobop. Several women waiting downstairs to use the bathroom gave him a round of applause when he left the men’s room after reapplying his pomade.

Unfortunately, the final scrapes of Mark Sultan’s usually soulful voice had been worn away by his latest touring. He made a game attempt to sing one of his tunes from the Show’s latest album, ‘What’s For Dinner’, but it was useless. Thereafter he confined himself to keeping the beat while crunching out Link Wraylian riffs on his beater guitar.

For his part, Khan changed into that evening’s outfit – a tracksuit and makeshift turban – before starting the show with some sit-down raga rock. After that it was non-stop soul shouting lo-fidelity garage rock and between song heckling (both from the audience and between band members and opening acts). “He lost his voice ... he also lost his virginity.” “His mom’s available if you know what I mean.” was some of the more printable repartee.
With nothing but a few steps between the band (which was actually performing on a slightly raised area normally reserved for pool tables) and the audience, there was plenty of opportunity for pretty girls (and not so pretty boys) to jump on stage and dance (both with invitation and without). It also allowed Khan to charge into the audience, guitar in hand.

Beer glasses were smashed on the floor, Bloodshot Bill joined them on stage for some nasty doo-wop, Khan chewed a Rolaids until his mouth foamed, then chased Bill into the audience. He traded his turban for a rubber pickelhaube, then a purple wig ... more pervy banter, more spilled and sprayed beer, more greasy rock. With Mark’s voice more or less gone, their set wasn’t as long as it otherwise might be, but it still packed a huge amount of vavoom.

















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