A little over a week ago I went to Kid Congo Powers’ record release party at Tonic in NYC. I’d tried my damnedest to talk myself out of going (NYC being a bit of a trek and all) but the lineup just kept getting better and better and I couldn’t in good conscience stay away. The show didn’t disappoint, touching on just about every facet of Kid’s long and storied career. (The video for “Hit the North” (-uh!) didn’t get an airing, but that was just about the only glaring omission.) The Sassiest Boy in America (aka Ian Svenonius) DJed. The NYC version of Congo Norvell reunited for a one-off; Kid’s new band the Pink Monkeybirds played a loose-limbed, delightfully louche set; Julee Cruise, Kid, and Markus Schmickler (Pluramon) formed a pick-up band; and Thalia Zedek joined Kid in a Gun Club medley to mark the tenth anniversary of Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s death.
The following day I went to see The Downtown Show. The most delightful discovery of the show (besides the pieces by Spalding Gray-era Wooster Group) was a short video performance art piece byAnn Magnuson. I got to wondering what she’s been up to. Turns out she’s recording an album in LA with Kristian Hoffman —who, coincidentally, was in the LA version of Kid Congo’s former band Congo Norvell. It should be ready by late spring or early summer.
This week I also finally saw The Nomi Song. I’d heard Nomi’s music here and there —I still remember being stunned into silence by his performance of “Total Eclipse” on Urgh! A Music War, which I saw as an impressionable pre-teen. I was slack-jawed with amazement. (Although not as slack-jawed as I was at my first viewing of Lux Interior —whoa!) The documentary itself was fascinating, and ultimately quite heartbreaking —presenting a portrait of a man who was kind, gentle, and painfully, painfully alone. It’s all there in his sad, expressionless Nomi face, with its poignant moue of surprise and its sharp angles. The human softness and expressiveness at war with the cold, angular outward appearance. And you hear it all in his incredible, soaring voice. Brimming over with emotion, it is almost inhuman in its distillation of heartbreak into such crystal-clear, beautiful notes.
I hadn’t realized until watching the film that Hoffman had also been Nomi’s primary songwriter. Hoffman —who started proto-New Wave band the Mumps with high school classmate Lance Loud (An American Family) and has gone on to collaborate with a roster of musicians as diverse as Nomi, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Dave Davies, Rufus Wainwright, and the aforementioned Kid Congo— started his career writing literate, wry, lush pop songs at a time when wryness was not valued overly much (unless it was delivered via the alien visage of Nomi, a case of novelty trumping archness).
Hoffman was heavily involved in the Downtown scene, including the “New Wave Vaudeville” series that marked Nomi’s stunning début. So was Ann Magnuson, and in the early 80s the two collaborated with Robert Mache (who’d played in Hoffman’s lounge act the Swinging Madisons) to form Bleaker Street Incident —a loving parody of bleeding-heart folk-rock long before A Mighty Wind. The band was a proving ground for the mix of hallucinatory lunacy and incisive parody that Magnuson would later use to great effect with Bongwater (Exhibit A: The Power of Pussy’s nine-minute magnum opus, “Folk Song”). Hooray for unhinged, improvisatory rants —no-one does them better than Magnuson.
The Gun Club, “Ghost on the Highway” (from Fire of Love)
For more on the Bleaker Street Incident, look no further than Kristian Hoffman’s homepage. (You can find updates on the collaboration with Ann Magnuson there too.)