Reader Jose Fritz submits this review of the August 26th performance by James Kochalka and Jason Cooley at Tritone Bar in Philadelphia.
I awoke this morning to a funny sound in the bathroom and a strange urge to rise early despite my late return last night. Maybe it was the pseudoephedrine talking but, I got up. There was water dripping from the ceiling in the bathroom again and I called maintenance so I could practice getting ignored again.
I was fully dressed in yesterday’s clothes. There was a lot of crap in my pockets. A book called The Cute Manifesto
, a claim check for parking, directions in my handwriting, a couple phone numbers, a book of matches, some flyers, a sticker, a small comic by Jason Cooley, and a Playbill with notes all over it in sharpie. It came back to me. I sat down at my desk, and tried to work it out.
The pickle jar in front of me was full of pens taken from hotels. If I leaned forward, I still could vaguely smell brine.
I’d arrived early hoping to talk to James and Jason a little before show. I bumbled around until I found the right wall to lean on and then I waited. The room was red. The curtains were red, and the lights were red. This was a place to hallucinate freely. The smoke was thin yet, but there was a manual on the bar about an inch thick that refuted the dangers of smoke. The bartender had a raspy voice and coughed a lot. I didn’t order a drink. The old man with long grey hair to my left in the corner barstool did. He looked a little like Tom Petty, but also like that pilot from Mad Max.
I have to refer to my notes here, because my memory seems unreliable but it is true. There were midgets. Maybe dwarves, determining the difference requires close inspection and It’s rude to handle a midget too much. My claim check puts my arrival at around 9:00 PM. There were no flyers on the front window, nor had they appeared on the club schedule in the Tritone website. The calendar in the window just said “TBA” The emcee (who looked a little like Harrison Ford's nerdy evil twin) explained it was the opening night of the Philly Fringe Fest, the 10th anniversary thereof. Then it got weird.
A man sang cabaret, then there were dancers, a woman played “I Am Your Sunshine” on a saw with a bow. There were cross-dressers, jugglers and cross-dressing jugglers, a public spanking, a drag queen with a horsewhip and a very petite woman wearing a cardboard tree. A man in drag (possibly a very ugly woman) stripped on stage. A bearded man got on stage and played a toy guitar. He didn’t really play it. It played itself and he rocked out like it was an air guitar contest. He explained himself thusly: “It’s all about the faces you make. Nobody really rocks. They just look, like it.” There could be no better introduction to James Kochalka Superstar; unfortunately there were still two more accordion players to go. They played very well, but my soliloquy was ruined.
The show was described initially as an acoustic duo. This didn’t jive in my head as James can play no instruments. The setup was actually Jason on electric guitar and backing vocals, a drum machine and James on vocals. There were also half a dozen roller derby-ish looking cheerleaders crowded around the stage but I don’t know if they actually came with them from Burlington or if they were Philly natives.
James took the mic like a champ and warmed up the crowd with a couple solo numbers while Jason plugged in. James tugged on the mic cord and asked the emcee a question I’ve heard him ask before “is there more cable?” The emcee looked at him for a second, and then untied all the slack. In that moment he accessed James and decided rightly that there was no restraining him. They opened with Cocaine, the second track off the impending album Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly. It hit the crowd like a swat on the ass from the cross-dresser earlier in the evening. The Superstars marched forward into the forehead of god.
They played a tune James wrote 21 years ago about the Mummy. They did the classic “It’s My Dink.” They rapped freestyle. James sang a song his son wrote titled “Hot Penis” (It’s more innocent than the title might lead you to think.) He broke briefly to brag that XM Radio played Hockey Monkey 300 times and that he sold it to Fox for $25,000. It’s been 25 years of rock n’ roll for James. It’s the long-deserved payoff.
They did a couple more numbers from the new CD including “Why is the Sky Blue,” which does require crowd participation. It requires pointing at the sky, and pointing at James. This required a lot of practice as this crowd had not worked together before. It was easier when he just danced and dove through the crowd.
The emcee tried to end it, but Kochalka hath no fear. They did one more. They closed with Monkey vs. Robotm which had a bridge dedicated the 3-foot long blood dripping fangs of George W. Bush. My soliloquy was much improved. They left stage triumphantly.
I bought The Cute Manifesto
afterwards, and gave my sharpie to James so he could draw a kitty on a girl's arm. I went over to Jason to ask a little about the Warner Bros. takeover of Rykodisc. The conversation wandered and it turned out we both knew Ron Berman, both liked Alice Donut, and he was going to write a song for Debbie Harry.
A strikingly cute girl came up to me while I was talking to Jason and asked three questions: "Are you straight?" "Are you single?" and "Are you a drummer?" Her boldness froze me for a moment, and I can’t tell you what I said exactly...and then she was gone like a figment. Jason was kind enough to confirm at that moment that I looked straight to him. He thought the question was facetious. Maybe she was a figment, but I remember saying to Jason “I thought the hot girls were supposed to be hitting on you rock star types.” He replied “I guess I’m unattractive.” Jason is the Ron Stoppable to James’s Kim Possible attitude. As in The Cute Manifesto, either we turn toward cuteness and beauty or suffering and death. Balanced is achieved in the existence of two passively opposing options. Jason and James are not opposites but an equivalent negative and a positive.
Mr. X-12 isn’t the jealous type and was even kind enough to give me a comic he did around James's drawings called “Sunturd,” a tribute to James's supposedly massive ego. They signed my CD. Jason explained more about Debbie Harry. Adoring fans flocked to them, offering dinner, a place to stay, breakfast…whatever they needed. I chatted a bit more about the biz and about radio. But they both seemed still nervous about the shakeup at Ryko. Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly goes for adds at radio this Monday. Jason told me he was happy just to finish a real studio album like this, like the Beatles did. He drank more Victory beer and looked more proud and more nervous. James just kept smiling as he does when he has conquered a room of strangers.
In the end, I am confident the new album will do well. Wash Your Ass is a strong single, and they’ve still clearly got the live shops to back it up on stage. I am also confident that if you stand next to Jason X-12 long enough women will flock to you. It’s a very peculiar thing.