Feature: The Konks (Boston Phoenix, 1.26.11)

Posted on April 18, 2011

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At the end of the day, by what unit can one measure the career of a band like the Konks? Records? Few and far between. Radio play? Not a whole lot. Ticket sales? Never mind. You could argue for “beer” as a decent metric, but it’d be hard to find anyone who hasn’t lost count. With the Konks, you might as well forget it. There’s never been anybody quite like them: the rawest of garage-rockers, the nicest of fellas, and the band who quite possibly gave less of a shit than anyone.

So it was with no little remorse that I headed down to guitarist Bob Wilson’s Dorchester home. We’re set to reminisce with drummer/singer Kurt Davis (and watch a pirated documentary on Lemmy) a few days ahead of their final show ever, Saturday at Great Scott. A self-released vinyl parting shot is promised as well. “I guess ‘melancholy’ is the word,” says Wilson.

Seriously, never again? “Well, never say, ‘Never,’ ” says Davis. “But I don’t care if it bites me in the ass — look how many times the Who broke up.” It’s been 12 years since the band — Davis plus Wilson and bassist Jon Porth, both of whom played in the rockabilly crew the Racketeers — had their humble beginnings in the back room of Central Square’s old Mystery Train Records. Davis, an Indiana native who designed the iconic cover of legendary Indianapolis punks the Zero Boys’ Vicious Circle, moved here in 1986 and made a name as Yukki Gipe in thrash punks Bullet LaVolta before the Konks fell into place. Now he’s ready to retire.

“My ears are fuckin’ shot to hell,” he offers. “I’m tired of screaming my head off, drinking too much, and almost getting into drunken fights on the street. That almost happened at O’Brien’s not long ago, and I thought, ‘What am I doing in this situation?’ ”

Since 1998, the Konks have likely been the most balls-out, old-school, driveway-oil-spill punk-rock mess around — and definitely the only one doing it with a snare drum teetering on a stack of milk crates.

“There was never supposed to be a gimmick or anything,” explains Davis, recalling that first practice at the record shop. “There was a drum set in the back room, but there was no hardware — no cymbals, no stands, no hi-hat, none of that shit. But there were record crates.” They meant to find a drum set and a real drummer, but they never got around to it.

The subsequent years are a sudsy blur, hinging on a homegrown garage-rock scene that congealed around the quartet of the Konks, Mr. Airplane Man, Triple Thick, and Heavy Stud. The Abbey Lounge was hardly a rumor. “When we started, there was no scene there,” says Wilson. “When you told someone you were playing in Somerville, they were like, ‘Where?’ ”

They never really toured, but they did play New York a bunch and once got an on-stage introduction from ’70s sleazegali Kim Fowley. They found a trashed upright bass one day, duct-taped it together, and used it for gigs until it caved in on itself mid show at the Midway. When they flew to Vegas for some shows, Davis duct-taped the milk crates together and checked them as luggage. They put out a record on esteemed Bomp! Records (Dead Boys, DMZ, Black Lips) that slipped through the cracks when label founder Greg Shaw passed away. “The audacity, right?” says Wilson. That album’s “29 Fingers” was later resurrected in Rock Band — Davis is an office manager at Harmonix.

But it’s their blatant disregard for lofty ambitions and their zeal for meeting moronic challenges head on that will fuel this legend for years to come. Case in point: the time they won Little Steven’s goofball “Underground Garage Battle of the Bands” on a lark. “We played to 30 people at the Roxy,” says Wilson. “And they gave us thousands of dollars’ worth of gear.” They sold most of it. After they won, they went straight to the Abbey, where they had a show that night.

“We walked in carrying our gear over our heads,” Wilson recalls, “because people had already headed over to tell them we won. It was like Caesar walking into the room.” You’d have to expect the same kind of entrance this weekend — it might be the most honest way to measure the elusive career of one of this city’s best.

Originally published in the Boston Phoenix here.

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