The Viper Room. Dark, dirty, filled with the breath of booze. A stage the size of a closet snuggled into the corner. Bartenders with black dye dumped on their hair like bucket paint.
If I had told some random kid there that Kris Allen was about to perform, I would have been laughed at.
Kris Allen? Isn’t he the boring dude who won American Idol? The married Christian guy? The acoustic singer-songwriter with no personality?
Except that this was a secret show, scraped together by the scruff of Kris’s own boots after a canceled fair in Los Angeles, and he and his band were performing as ‘Sirk and the Dirty Minds’. At the dirty, badass Viper Room in West Hollywood.
I grew up in the South, like him. I don’t make an advertisement of it, because as much as I adore my family and would not trade them in for anything, I’m a city girl now. I’m from Tennessee originally but ran away to Los Angeles after college. Perhaps due to its unpleasant associations with Southern Baptist culture, I’ve been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to disown my Southern heritage. [This is very difficult when you find yourself vehemently defending grits.]
Following an extended evening of karaoke with out-of-town Kris fans in tow and a day of cavorting through my current backyard barefoot, we met the goddess that is Kathy bearing tickets at the Viper Room to get our wrists stamped and ready for Sirk [which is, of course, ‘Kris’ spelled backwards].
We had dinner at the Rainbow Bar & Grill – one of my favourites, an 80s throwback of a joint with portions the size of pasta pots and Bon Jovi leering at us from the walls. Its grungy feel was a nice foreshadowing for the future of the evening, even if the majority of us were dressed to the nines and covered in glitter. Clash of the titans – or just a habit of Adam Lambert fans.
Of course, when Kris and his Dirty Minds Blues Explosion came on at midnight, there was no clash—only the commonality that is concert screeching, sing-alongs to ‘Can’t Stay Away’, and cries of ‘yeaahhh, Latin Jesus!’ [forever the moniker of bassist Chris Torres, who looks like… well… a Latin Jesus].
We brought our glitz into a dirty rock show. We gooed over a pink unicorn thrown at Kris and insisted he wear a purple bracelet emblazened with an inside joke. We were giddy and glammed up, and Kris, in turn, gladly brought out the lewd bar girls in us.
He and the band were on fire. Everything was gritty, played-at-gunpoint, whiskey-toned. It made his recorded album sound like fuckin’ Coldplay. It was such a far cry from the radio schtick that has been [erroneously] compared to John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Kris—he has soul. He has swagger. Despite what his useless PR might say.
The whole show was like one big FUCK YOU to that bland public image – right down to having his setlist written on a KOOL cigarette box.
“It’s rock and roll, right?” Kris said. Hell yes.
So I went up to the bartender. “I’ll have two shots of whiskey. One for me,” I said, “and one for Kris.”
The bartender didn’t blink – just poured the Jack. I waited for the song to end [‘Red Guitar’, can you blame me for taking a break?], then shouldered my way to the stage and raised one glass to Kris.
“Oh, thanks, but I’m good,” he said. I held it up again, questioning the whole band. Kris took the shotglass, offered it to each band member, and Andrew – AKA Hot Guitarist – grabbed the glass and drank like a champ.
I had to thank him after the show. “Sure! Somebody had to do it,” he said. But still.
Shortly after my whiskey shot was passed around [and the band slayed their always-rocking rendition of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’], Kris debuted a new song. A different kind of song. A rootsy, earthy, twelve-bar blues, tentatively titled ‘Shut That Door’.
And let me tell you – it tore the fucking roof off. It made hip-swinging scanties out of bored WeHo bar kids. It left a blues imprint the size of early Elvis that racheted off the walls for the rest of the set – even more clearly in ‘Leave You Alone’ [sad-sack blues at its best] and ‘Come Together’ [Bluesy Beatles? what? but it worked].
It reminded me of seeing people like Tim O’Brien play at bluegrass bars back home. I even felt a crazy sense of Southern pride at the lyrics’ mention of Tennessee.
What? Southern pride? Where have I been?
I mean, I like glitter. But I forgot how much I love dirt.
The post-show party was everything it should have been. Shaking hands on a grimy sidewalk. Sudden thank-yous, signatures for Canadian loves, goofy signs of starstruck bliss. Oh, and Kris.
He is fascinating to me in person because it’s so clear that half his communication is unspoken. He’ll say something with words, but his eyes will say other things. Full of Southern charm, he is. Sweet and relaxed and sleepy.
He stayed with us for almost an hour, along with the band, taking picture after picture.
Now I’m downloading bluegrass songs on iTunes and contemplating a raid of the ‘Southern Discomfort’ section at Cinefile. And I’m remembering my childhood: mud days, fossil hunts, fish guts, barbecue, camping, eating beans and watch the Bar D Wranglers tear it up.
Revelation: it is possible to appreciate the respectable bits of Southern culture wihtout drowning in preconceived notions of fascist Republicanism. Kris did that – brought us grungy guitar playing and casual stage banter with none of the obnoxious fundamentalist morals that plague so much of rural America. It was both familiar and new-fangled, both backwater and badass. It made me feel closer to people I’ve never even known.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to pack up and move to somebody’s barn. But I’ve rediscovered the glory of grime, and dirt, and LA is plenty dirty – from the smog in the sky to the seedy back alleys.
I just may pull out my brown trucker hat once in a while, or sit around outside in cutoff jeans instead of sparkly leggings.
Thanks, Kris. If I ever buy a cowboy hat or own a chicken, I’m blaming you.
Video courtesy of headonfire1105.
Photos courtesy of http://www.twitter.com/parigi88.
[Public Service Announcement: the band that played right before the Dirty Minds, My Own Holiday, were raucous and raw and rocktastic and FUCKING BRILLIANT. Check them out: http://www.myspace.com/myownholiday%5D