Arish “King” Khan, 32, describes his current stagewear as “a mix between Cleopatra and Rick James.” Just picture a long-limbed, beer-bellied, pencil-mustached Indian Canadian in sequin-belted hot pants, layers of chains, a pouffed black pageboy wig with a gold headband, foam genie shoes, and a gold lamé veil, duck-walking his guitar across the stage. “He’s the guy who’s gonna make everyone go bananas,” says partner Mark “BBQ” Sultan, 35, stationary yin to Khan’s hyperkinetic yang, sporting a relatively modest pink turban and cape while playing rhythm guitar and stomping a bass drum, snare, and tambourine, all at the same time. “I’m glad to be sitting and just concentrating on the songs.”
The duo met in their native Montreal and played in the short-lived punk band the Spaceshits. After parting ways (Khan moved to Germany and formed the 11-piece soul review the Shrines, whose The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines came out last year; Sultan fronted Les Sexareenos and released solo records as BBQ), they reconnected in 2003 and have made time for madcap and debauched world tours ever since.
The material for their yet-to-be titled new album, which follows 2005’s The King Khan & BBQ Show and 2006’s What’s for Dinner?, was recorded in Montreal, Berlin, and Brooklyn over the second half of 2008 and should be out soon. Its ass-shaking Chuck Berry riffs, doo-wop vocals (Khan specializes in gravelly screamers, while Sultan soulfully belts bay-ay-ay-behs), and raunchy sing-along lyrics don’t so much reinterpret as channel the charged energies of vintage ’50s- and ’60s-style rock. “We carry on a tradition, but we do it in the right way,” says Khan. “Not this cheesy, purist, look-like-a-certain-time-period kind of thing. And we’re sexualizing it a lot.”
No kidding. A series of KKBBQ shows featured a girl blowing fireballs from her privates (“She would travel and meet us,” says Sultan). Another time, in São Paulo, Brazil, a friend of the band pushed her surprised boyfriend onstage, pulled down his pants, and went to work. And in New Orleans one Halloween, before almost burning down the ramshackle club, Khan had a harmonica shoved you-know-where by a huge Cajun dressed like Chucky.
King Khan believes strongly that this sort of lurid debasement is simply all in a night’s work. “Rock’n’roll is supposed to be complete decadence,” he says. “That’s what it brings out in people.”