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Before Brian Tristan was Kid Congo Powers, he was “ThePrez”—-a name conferred upon him by Joey Ramone. Kid Congo became an important post-punk figure in the 1980s as a member of The Gun Club, The Cramps, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but before all that, at age 17, he was the president of the Ramones’ fan club. “They knew a good thing to have a hungry kid round up the troops,” he says. “All you needed was access to a xerox machine and some self-addressed stamped envelopes from the fans.”
Just a few years later, The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce helped teach Kid how to play guitar, but in open tuning rather than standard. To this day, Kid still “only exclusively plays in open tuning. It keeps the sound special.” So that’s some of what you can expect when Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds play at Comet Ping Pong tonight.
Kid joined bands like The Gun Club, The Cramps, and The Bad Seeds the same way he became involved with the Ramones—-by being a fan. “If I liked a band at that time I would just go up and tell them. Before The Gun Club I had never played guitar. My style is self-taught and just it’s own thing. I think people like The Cramps and Nick Cave saw this as a big plus. Music for us was not just playing something weird—-it was more about creating a new language.”
After playing in an early incarnation of The Gun Club, Kid joined The Cramps in 1980, and traded in his birth name at the suggestion of singer Lux Interior. Lux “had a Santeria candle that read ‘when you light this candle Congo Powers will be revealed to you.'” He did a couple of more stints in The Gun Club before joining Nick Cave’s crew in the late-’80s. He’s been releasing music under his own name since 2005, and moved to D.C. several years ago.
Let’s not go to deep into Kid’s past, though; if you want to know more, he’s writing a memoir. Not that he’s thinking about the past too much. “I am proud of my accomplishments and luck to collaborate with what I consider the greats of my milieu,” he says. “But, as a workaholic, looking forward to doing the next project is what is in the forefront of my mind rather than the past.”
Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds perform tonight with Chain & the Gang at Comet Ping Pong, 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. 10:30 p.m. $12.