BILLIARDS AT NINE THIRTY - Dirtbombs versus King Khan and his Shrines (Sounds of Subterrania through Off the Hip)
With the demise of Melbourne's Punters Club in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (the building remains, but the live music and character has gone elsewhere), there are few places I can think of where you can combine a decent game of pool with live music (a notable exception being the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy). So the release of an album that explicitly invokes the pool table metaphor (albeit referring to the more skilled game of billiards) is a very welcome development.

The combatants on this CD are The Dirtbombs and King Khan and his Shrines. The Dirtbombs are well known to anyone who cares about contemporary garage music. Mick Collins is widely acknowledged as setting the high water mark for rock cool – he could be reading a morning newspaper on a suburban train and still be oozing credibility through his pores. While many fans of Collins' work in The Dirtbombs, The Gories and other side projects may have greeted the band's 2002 release "Ultraglide in Black" with some disappointment – as Mick chose to celebrate soul and funk over garage – that album remains one of my favourite releases of the last few years. The Dirtbombs' contribution to this split CD is closer to the soul-garage of that album than other Dirtbombs releases.

The Dirtbombs line-up itself has changed yet again for this release, now comprising Collins, Pat Pantano (drums), Troy Gregory (bass), Ko Shih (bass), Ben Blackwell (drums). Presumably Jim Diamond was so busy with his production duties that he couldn't find the time to record (though it was recorded immediately before the Dirtbombs' 2004 Australian tour, on which Diamond played).

The opening track, "Phantoms In a Lesser Crystaline Sphere", is the stand out track on the Dirtbombs' slice of the CD – true to their funk-garage best, it bashes and bounces in the band's inimitable manner, pausing occasionally for breath before lurching back into action. The rest of the songs don't really match that opening pace, which is no slight on the quality of the songs, but more a reflection on the style that captured the band at the time. "Born In a Haunted Barn" (which I was sure was Born in a Honey Pot until I read the track listing in detail) has that psychedelic garage character you might associate with a cartoon featured on the Banana Splits show.

"The House As a Giant Bong" (which could be the theme song to a share house in inner-city Adelaide, or indeed just about any medium sized city with a reasonable size student population) is so sublime as to be almost lazy, a very appropriate aesthetic in light of the title. "The Size of Ottawa" is a sub-one minute escapade dominated by shouts and fuzz, while "Another Message From the Dog Tree" has a hint of a pop sensibility taming its underlying garage moments. The final Dirtbombs cut, "I Had to Chew My Own Leg Off" is very restrained, almost labouring to its natural conclusion.

I have only had limited exposure to King Khan and his Shrines before this CD, but I'll certainly be increasing my interest in his/their work in the future. In brief terms, King Khan is a garage incarnation of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, with theatrical advice from George Clinton. "Sweet Tooth" sets the scene perfectly, all sugar and spice, flourishing keyboards and excited vocals, funk and groove, delivered with a 60s sensibility that comes in all colours of the rainbow.

The rest of the tracks continues in that vain; Annabelle is a classic 60s "she's my girl and she's the best thing ever" celebratory tune (with some great horn work dovetailing with James Brown-like shouts of orgasmic excitement), "Burnin' Inside" blends a subtle guitar lick, a lounge aesthetic and some Sly Stone/Larry Graham vocal interplays before culminating via a killer guitar solo. Both "Killer Diller" and "40 Birds" benefit from wicked Herb Albert-like brass introductory splashes, while "Take a Trip" is an appropriate, Playboy mansion party quality, end to an extremely entertaining set.

And who is the winner of the mid-evening billiards competition? Well, on the night I'd have to say King Khan takes the points in a chaotic performance that is mesmorising, bewildering and captivating. But if I had to put money on someone to win the re-match, it'd be on the erstwhile Mr Collins and his rotating band of garage luminaries.
- Patrick Emery






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