THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: On the eve of his revealing memoir Some New Kind Of Kick, underground icon Kid Congo Powers — a former member of The Gun Club, The Cramps, Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, Chris D’s Divine Horsemen and more — is back with not one but two new albums: Summer Forever and Ever, the second release by Wolfmanhattan Project, his supergroup with Mick Collins and Bob Bert; and Kid Congo Powers and The Near Death Experience Live in St. Kilda, featuring the singer-guitarist in concert in Australia.
Summer Forever and Ever succeeds Blue Gene Stew, 2019’s debut by the Wolfmanhattan Project, a collective unit co-starring two other musicians familiar to garage-rock fans: Singer-guitarist Mick Collins, frontman of the seminal Detroit-bred Dirtbombs and Gories, and drummer-vocalist Bob Bert, whose skin work has distinguished albums by Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus, and Jon Spencer and the HITmakers.
Powers says of the genesis of the Wolfmanhattan Project: “I met Mick at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin. There was just a great vibe from him, and I admire him so much. I said, ‘We should do something together someday!’ Bob is a mutual friend of ours, and he actually pulled it together by saying, ‘Hey, let’s go in the studio.’ We had a rough concept of two baritone guitars and drums, with all of us singing. It ended up that I found a baritone guitar and no one else did, so I became the default ‘bass player.’ ”
Bert recalls: “It’s unbelievable that the Wolfmanhattan Project has been together for 10 years at this point. I went to a show at the Brooklyn Bowl, and Kid and Mick did a song together. I have to give Larry Hardy the credit for almost curating the band, in a way. I heard they were thinking about recording, and I happened to be in L.A. hanging with Larry, and he got a call from Mick, and I said, ‘Oh, I wanna get in on that.’ I’ve known Mick and Kid for a really long time, so it all kind of fell together.”
The group was founded as a studio project by three musicians who are kept busy by their primary bands. Blue Gene Stew was written and recorded quickly. Powers says, “I think that the new record was much more a group effort. I think there’s more of a group kind of sound, as eclectic as it is. I feel like we all played together, as opposed to playing on each other’s songs.”
Bert notes that the band’s music is grounded in spontaneity: “Me and Mick went in and had a couple of rehearsals, and I would come up with a beat, he would come up with a riff. I still have a cassette Walkman, believe it or not, and we’d put it down on that. It wasn’t even a full song. We’d just put down a bunch of ideas. When it came to recording we’d lay down the basic tracks and work out different things, and a lot of it was made up on the spot. It really is a great collaboration.”
Recorded and engineered by Mark C. of Live Skull at his studio, Summer Forever and Ever finds Powers playing piano and the Kaoss touch-pad effects unit, with Collins playing synthesizer in addition to their usual instruments. The album reflects the same eclectic mix of musical styles heard on the debut. References and sometimes even direct quotes from sources as diverse as the Andrea True Connection, Captain Beefheart, The Count Five and Eurythmics leap out of the speakers.
“My biggest influence is beatnik poetry,” says Powers. “Bob comes from the no wave scene. Mick is an incredible source of all kinds of very strange musical information. We all have library cards and we read. We listen to all kinds of things. Our thing is garage-rock, and to be a good garage rocker you have to be informed by many other things, or else you’re just nostalgia.
“It’s a great band,” he adds. “It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s kooky and arty and rock ’n’ roll. It contains all those parts of us. We all share in the lyrics and the vocals, so it’s very much a mind-meld and a group effort.”
Kid Congo Powers and The Near Death Experience Live in St. Kilda was a rare appearance at which Powers was backed by a group other than his longtime combo The Pink Monkey Birds. The Nov. 9, 2019 show at the titular Australian city’s MEMO Music Hall was mounted to launch Nine Parts Water, One Part Sand: Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge, the autobiography of the singer-songwriter-guitarist of the famed Antipodean band The Scientists (whose most recent album Negativity was released in 2021).
The hard-rocking group that ended up backing Powers on the show flashed some storied credentials of their own. Guitarist Harry Howard is the brother of the late Rowland S. Howard of The Bad Seeds, and played with Rowland in Crime And The City Solution and These Immortal Souls. Harry’s partner Edwina Preston is a keyboardist, a member of ATOM and the tribute unit Pop Crimes (playing the songs of Rowland S. Howard), and a well-known novelist and nonfiction writer. The group’s other couple, bassist Dave Graney and drummer Clare Moore, are well known Down Under for their earlier groups The Moodists and The Coral Snakes.
“Kim wanted me to come and play for his book launch,” says Powers. “There was not enough budget for me to bring The Pink Monkey Birds. And we both said, ‘Oh, let’s use Harry’s band.’ That was a no-brainer, and it was great. I loved playing with them. They played with The Pink Monkey Birds when we went to Australia. They were so great, and I really love their albums. We did some of their songs, because it was a collaboration.”
The evening featured The Pink Monkey Birds’ LSDC, Black Santa, and La Llorona, The Gun Club’s Sex Beat, and The Cramps’ New Kind of Kick and Garbage Man. The Near Death Experience’s repertoire was represented by The Only One, She Doesn’t Like It, and When He Finds Out; the latter song was penned by the late Spencer P. Jones of Beasts of Bourbon. The night also included an eclectic batch of cover versions: East L.A. rock ’n’ roll heroes Thee Midniters’ I Found A Peanut, ’60s girl group The Shangri-Las’ Sophisticated Boom Boom, and proto-punk noise terrorists Suicide’s Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne.
The rousingly received gig served as a homecoming for ex-Bad Seed Powers, who also played a legendary Aussie tour with The Gun Club in 1983 as The Scientists’ opening act. “We’ve been to Australia several times and have built up a great following,” Powers says. You can hear the love and feel the fire on Live in St. Kilda.”