I arrive at the Echoplex at an hour so early that it breaks some kind of cosmic Los Angeles rule but to my surprise, there’s already a small crowd gathered at the foot of the stage in anticipation. I didn’t want to miss Kirin J. Callinan but until I’m at the door, I don’t even realize that there’s another act, Liam Finn, on the bill. Connan Mockasin is the main event tonight but having seen him just a few short months ago, I’m really hear to see Kirin J. Callinan whose name has been dropped a lot among friends lately though I still remain ignorant to his music. Rest assured, though his appearance in this review may be brief, Connan Mockasin was every bit the male Medusa he was when I saw him in January, freezing the audience in place with his stunning compositions and then thawing us out with torrid sexuality.
Liam Finn wastes no time in dosing the audience with his brand of pretty pop inflected with glitter rock guitar electricity. He may not look the part of a Mick Ronson with his bushy beard and unassuming dress, but those guitar riffs would have you believe otherwise. A full band supports him through his diverse pop forays that are often lush, fleshed out by backing harmonies, synth orchestras, and even some omnichord action. The sparkling gem of the set, like silver moonlight gently glistening upon undulating waves, is introduced as having been inspired by the mythic heroine of softcore porn Emmanuelle. But where those films cut away, Liam Finn delivers the money shot with gorgeous orchestral romance and gently plucked guitar that idealizes a fantasy behind a Vaseline-streaked lens the way Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” did a one-night stand. Just last week, a friend had been telling me one of his own songs was inspired by an Emmanuelle movie so maybe softcore pornography has a place in our universal subconscious now. Maybe this is the stuff of legends.
Somebody up there likes us tonight because Jimi Hey is the DJ between sets. Tonight, he dazzles us with Australian and New Zealand-centric selections including John Farnham’s “Age of Reason” that sounds absolutely jawdropping as Jimi plays it at a slower speed.
Kirin J. Callinan sashays delicately onto the stage to Jimi’s selection of Australian Crawl’s “Restless”, miming along in flowing robes. Not knowing what to expect, I’m visibly shocked when Kirin unceremoniously rips through the structure of the Echoplex with the white heat of his opening guitar chord, looking like a tortured Hare Krishna pushed over the edge. He’s flanked by a drummer insistently pounding out purely brutal beats augmented by programmed rhythms and a synth player who soaks the sound in acidic washes and biting maniacal melodies. The drummer is dressed like an extra from The Road Warrior while the synth player barely moves, yet looks somehow sinister in a black turtleneck with sunglasses dangling across his chest. They break their stoic expressions rarely but when they do, it’s to sneer. Tim Koh, no stranger to music connoisseurs of Los Angeles, has the difficult job of anchoring the violent and emotional explosion before us with the bass responsibilities, but hidden in the shadows, he proves himself up to the challenge. By the end of the first song, I’m turning around expecting to see the audience looking a bit like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And just like that, I’m a fan. But the industrial-influenced prophecies and post-apocalyptic pop songs keep coming with Kirin’s majestic and powerful vocals shifting into raw damnations while he drags twisted lips across the microphone. Just when we’re starting to get scared of this guy, he awes us by throwing his spinning guitar into the air before catching it and immediately plunging us into crunchy chords of malevolence. But these aren’t really storm trooper dirges. It’s as if he’s trying to explain a painful truth for the greater good against his own desire. In reflective moments, his introspection becomes universal and inclusive, his lyrics ecstatic and celebratory even in the face of the truly bleak. There’s humor in the synth player cynically rasping “Springsteen” throughout a song about America, but Kirin immediately wipes the smiles off our faces with a voice that can sound as sublime as Marc Almond and, within the same sentence, as coarse as J.G. Thirlwell. But while Kirin’s compositions hint at a prophet spoon-feeding his people the most bitter of medicines, the audience tonight don’t want him to leave the stage and he’s left performing an a cappella song about being a toddler. He takes his shirt off and a friend remarks “Kirin’s got the Gummo haircut” and it’s strange how quickly he shifts from Hare Krishna to disillusioned youth. Through the laughs, we’re hearing his voice, naked and spot-lit for the first time, and it’s truly incredible.
This is the final night of the Connan Mockasin/Kirin J. Callinan tour and the bittersweet energy of fond farewells is in the air. By the end of Mockasin’s set, all band members from tonight’s acts are onstage in an encore that they don’t want to end. At some point, New Zealand-born pop star Daniel Bedingfield actually takes the stage and sings his hit “Gotta Get Thru This” and while a lot of the audience is baffled, it’s obvious that the bands don’t want to get through this at all.