Tucson nonpareil, Kid Congo Powers drops 'That Delicious Vice'

Separated by continents and a head-spinning 17-hour time difference, I found Kid Congo Powers in Melbourne, Australia, at the time of this interview.

“We just played the first show of our tour here last night,” Powers enthused. “’twas a blast.”

Recently, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds — a trio comprised of Mark Cisneros (guitars/Fender Bass VI – a stringed instrument similar to an electrified version of the bajo sexto used in mariachi), Ron Miller (drums), and Powers (vocals/guitars) — released “That Delicious Vice” and are traipsing through Australia and parts unknown supporting the record.


Immersed in the underground music scene, set against a backdrop of anarchy and hedonism that ran riot throughout Los Angeles during the 1970s and ’80s, Powers came of age in a subculture of disillusioned youth — mired in nihilism, ill-disposed to conform to the preceding generation’s ideologies, conventions and failures.

The illustrious guitarist — formerly with the Cramps, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the Gun Club — now calls Tucson home.

But has living among the thorny cacti of Southern Arizona, with its extreme contrasts and deceptively beautiful austerity, impacted Powers’ songwriting?

“My environment always has some impact on the music that I make. And I feel the Sonoran Desert has made the music have much more space,” Powers said. “The land is rich and magical. Ancestors fly about. Nature is both smooth and cruel. I love it.”

“Maybe I’m turning into a desert stoner-rocker? But I’m not a stoner, so that’s not happening,” he said, trailing off into laughter.

In the opening track, the ominous “East Of East” — an instrumental that from the downbeat captivates the senses with its concussive, reverb-drenched drum poundings and saw-edged Duane Eddy-esque guitar twang — one can begin to envision a darkening sky, rays of incandescent sunlight piercing through gaps in rain-heavy clouds, as a desert storm approaches.

There is also “Ese Vicio Delicioso” — the title track transposed to Spanish — an acid-garage drenched cumbia in which Powers narrates the story of his musical junket over the Pink Monkey Birds’ cowbell-welting Latin rhythms.

“Mark came up with some great Spanish guitar things for that track,” Powers noted.

“Ese Vicio Delicioso” could easily find itself on a playlist to soundtrack a road trip South of the border, the kind that doesn’t always end well, throttling headlong towards misadventure, yielding to well-worn vices.

The majesty and expansiveness of the desert abounds on “That Delicious Vice.”

During the songwriting process, Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds were working to develop a cinematic sound, evoking strong images and moods.

“We spread our wings each time a little more, to not do the same old thing,” Powers told the Sentinel.

That effort is evidenced on “The Smoke is The Ghost.” Blending elements of down-tempo jazz and retro-tiki lounge exotica, with a rumba clave pattern to create a super-chilled vibe, this track belongs on the jukebox at The Shelter. The ’60s-themed Tucson cocktail lounge is replete with vintage JFK memorabilia, glittering tuck & roll upholstered booths, and pinball machines located in a Cold War Era fallout shelter, and the song could be an homage to the days when mixologist “Bart Brat” hand-crafted martinis from behind the bar while the debonair “Don Santiago,” often found bedecked in a satin smoking jacket, held court, imbibing from a bejeweled chalice.


“Located deep in the hot steamy bowels of scenic Tucson,” “That Delicious Vice” — Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds’ fifth full-length album of their 19-year career — was recorded and mixed at Waterworks Recording West.

“I have been working with Jim Waters the past five years,” Powers noted. “Which is when I moved to Tucson.”

Previously, Waters has worked with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Sonic Youth among other notables.

Powers feels strongly about the importance of working with like-minded people.

“Jim is one of those people,” Powers asserted. “The studio has a great environment and I am always thrilled with the records.”


Long years after the zenith of the L.A. punk scene — a highly competitive proving ground where incisors were sharpened during the Chinatown Punk Wars — one of the points of note of “That Delicious Vice” is its collaboration with Alice Bag, the frontwoman and untempered voice of early L.A. punk band The Bags.

A fire often fanned by the L.A. music press, the Chinatown Punk Wars of the 1970s was a feud between two (often overlapping) factions in Chinatown. Centered around two clubs, Madame Wong’s — whose owner Esther Wong tired of catering to unruly punks pivoted in favor of the ascending new wave movement — and the Hong Kong Café (then owned by Bill Hong) who rolled out the welcome mat for punk rockers of all ages.

During that heady time, it is quite possible that Powers and Bag’s photos — both alums of the seminal Hollywood punk palace The Masque — may have stared each other down, vis-à-vis, from opposing pages in punk rock fanzines like Slash or Flipside, both prominent purveyors of all things punk at the time.

So, why did it take roughly four decades for these two old-school punks to unite creatively?

Powers cast light on a clouded mystery: “The planets aligned for it to happen now.”

“Your people are your people.” Powers expanded, “Meaning that we came up in a movement and those punk ethics continue on.”

“Alice had been living in the Phoenix area. We invited her to come to Tucson to record and collaborate,” he said. “Trying to express ourselves in our alternative language of music.”

This led to “Wicked World” — a full-on Kid Congo Powers and Alice Bag duet — in which the punk rockers recount the tale of a child “born into trouble from a devil seed” and the forked road that led her to “turning tricks and seeking kicks.”

“It’s a pulp paperback reincarnated as primal rock ‘n’ roll,” Powers said. 

“I respect her as an artist. I respect her stance as a feminist. I respect that she’s such a great role model for a lot of young Chicano kids,” he said of the collaboration with Bag.

Directed by Chris Carlone, the video for “Wicked World” was shot in Tucson.

“Chris Carlone is a mad genius,” Powers declared. “I wanted something chaotic and he delivered.”

Towards the end of our dialogue — with war raging around the globe as duplicity is normalized by political leaders — I asked Powers if he sees any hope for this wicked world.

“Sometimes I wonder,” Powers mused before adding, “As long as we resist the unjust elements and defend the ethical, we will survive.”