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Posted at 1:42 PM ET, 10/29/2007

Not Just Another Show at the Red & the Black

By David Malitz

Go to enough shows and they all start to blur together. I've been to about a hundred this year and while this doesn't prevent me from having a good time and getting into the music when it's worth getting into, the actual experience of going to a show can become pretty monotonous. That's why Saturday night's show at the Red & the Black -- while a complete and utter disaster -- was one of my more memorable concert-going experiences of 2007.

I went to the Red & the Black expecting things to be a bit rowdier than normal, since it was a punky, garage rock show (King Khan & BBQ being the headliners) on a Saturday night in a small club. Plus local hellraisers the Points were on the bill, so there was bound to be a bit of chaos. The Points were setting up their equipment as I made my way into the tiny upstairs performance space in the H Street bar. For whatever reason, the trio was setting up in front of the stage, meaning it was going to be even more in your face than usual. While standing about 10 feet away from the band's gear I remarked to a friend that we were in the "splash zone" -- drummer Travis Jackson has been known to spit beer with regularity -- so we moved back a few feet. The official capacity for the Red & the Black's performance space is 99 people, but it starts to feel a bit crowded when it reaches 40 or so, especially with the band taking up a good chunk of the floor space. Once the Points started into their set, people started getting excited. And with good reason -- the band is the most reliably entertaining group in D.C., with its unrelenting blast of hyperspeed punk rock.

It was a few minutes into the Points' set that things started to get a little out of hand. What started out as some bopping and pogoing by audience members became flailing, pushing and jumping into people. There was one person in particular who seemed to be on another planet. During the Points' first song he stood right in front of the band, with his back to them, eyes closed, slowly jogging in place. Soon he started hopping up and down, then hopping up and down while moving backwards, crashing into people who could only try to push him forward. Then he started doing a weird dance move where he put his right hand to his forehead, sort of like Gob or the rest of the Bluths doing the chicken dance on "Arrested Development." It was hilarious, until he came crashing into you, knocking over your beer. Soon the pushing and shoving became a little more intense and the beer spraying picked up, but honestly, I saw fiercer "mosh pits" at Less Than Jake shows back in high school. The tipping point for the club came when one patron decided to jump up and hit the ceiling fan. This brought the wrath of both bartenders on duty, who quickly ran into the middle of the crowd and started dragging people out. It seemed that at least four or five people got ejected during the band's set, although it did seem that touching the ceiling fan was the most egregious offense. After a pretty thrilling half hour of rock from the Points the house lights went on -- the usual sign for a band to call it quits -- but this wasn't something the band had much interest in doing. They kept on rocking and it took the upstairs bartender physically unplugging Geo White's guitar to get the band to stop.

So with the "bad elements" removed, the crowd was a bit thinner for King Khan & BBQ Show's first-ever D.C. performance. Inspired by the mayhem, a clearly enthusiastic King Khan -- who was upfront headbanging for a good bit of the Points' set -- remarked the he "didn't realize D.C. was so cool" when he first took the stage. It would only be a few minutes until his feelings did a complete 180. The band was having terrible sound issues, which caused a delay in the set. It's not like the two-person group has a complicated set-up -- a pair of guitars, a pair of vocals and a rudimentary kick-pedal/tambourine drum kit -- but it just wasn't happening. The Red & the Black's "PA" is, in terms of quality, roughly a step below what you would find in the practice space of most high school garage bands, and it showed tonight. It's never really been a problem at the dozen or so shows I've seen there previously, but all it was good for tonight was lots of feedback. King Khan -- by this point dressed in his normal stage attire of a tight, black mini-dress and purple wig (the dress was a lot tighter than this on Saturday, but you get the point) started to get very angry, and even when the band was ready to give it a go they stood there waiting for the house music and house lights to go back down.

The band finally started but gave up after about 5 minutes. The vocals were inaudible, there was constant feedback, and it just sounded like total garbage. Both band members were clearly frustrated, as were the 50 or so people who were ready to continue rocking. The bartender/soundman (never a good sign) kept saying it wasn't his fault, but it was the band's equipment. As each minute passed both the band and audience members grew more restless. Only a few minutes after saying how cool D.C. was King Khan changed his tune: "No wonder we've never played D.C. before." One audience member (a good friend of mine, and a very drunk one, at that) was trying to be encouraging when he shouted out some variation of, "Just play the set! We don't care! Rock and roll!" King Khan didn't react well to this. He jumped off the stage -- remember, he's wearing a tight black mini-dress and purple wig at this point -- and got right in the face of my friend, yelling that he would if he could, with lots of expletives sprinkled in. Thankfully my buddy and King Khan didn't throw down, and after a while they even got the vocals worked out. The good sound lasted for about two songs, which was a real shame because the duo's primal, boogie garage rock was working very well despite all the troubles.

At this point the duo realized there was no hope, kept asking if there was a party they could play after the show and proceded to take requests from the crowd. I think BBQ (aka the great Mark Sultan) gave the double-finger to the soundman in the back. Even though King Khan's vocals weren't audible, they tore through excellent versions of "Zombies," "Fish Fight" and "Waddlin' Around." Soon after this the house lights went on, much to the dismay of everyone except the bartender/soundman. He walked up to the stage to try to get the band to stop but was oh-so-kind to let the band play one last tune. After that, it was done. Chaotic, disappointing, ridiculous ... and yet strangely enjoyable. It may have been a disaster, but at least it wasn't just another show.

-- David

By David Malitz  | October 29, 2007; 1:42 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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I was there and it definitely was a train wreck...but also very compelling and great fun. A great show in that it all of it was very random, erratic, raw, real, and entertaining

The bartenders were in over their heads and desperate trying to control the slam dancing/beer spraying/fan slapping scrum during the Points set. I believe that they only kicked one person out (I was near the rear and could see), but they did push and pull at several others. I actually felt that the bartenders came close to causing things to tip into chaos.

As for King Khan and BBQ, the frustration between the bartender/soundman and King Khan was building all night long. My observation had King Khan's oversized ego and attitude causing most of the escalation. It was made worse by the stress remaining in the bartenders from the intervention with the crowd and the band when the Points were playing. In any event, the exchange between them over the sound problems ended up as a highlight of the night for me. I agreed with the sentiments of your drunk friend and felt that they should have just worked with the situation and played - it wasn't like a new sound system was in the offing or that the bartender/sound man was going to get it working any better. I don't know if you noticed, but KK and BBQ had someone with them trying to work the sound system during the problems and he did not fare any better than the bartender. Travis from the Points gave it a few minutes as well without any real improvement. I would have loved to heard a full set from King Khan and BBQ, but I think you were lucky to hear the bit that was played. I was certain that the frustration was going to send them storming off rather than continuing.

Posted by: Rowdy | October 30, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

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