“Who Killed the Cheerleader?” screams Kim Nekroman, the lead singer of the Danish psychobilly trio the Nekromantix. Dressed in black, Nekroman sports five-inch hair, a fake name, and a hodgepodge of tattoos. With the furry of a man possessed he strums a homemade, seven-foot coffin shaped bass replete with visible nails and a black wooden cross extending above the neck. The wrecking crew in the pit, hearing Nekroman’s call, answers their ringmaster by surging to the stage pointing their fingers, “You did! You did!” Nekroman shakes his head vehemently, “Oh, no, it wasn’t me at all!” staring wide-eyed and frantic into the abyss of thrashing flesh, like an innocent demon.
Psychobilly has arrived in Southern California.
Psychobilly arose in the early 1980’s as a meld between punk and rockabilly and horror flicks. (“Psycho” is from the Hitchcock film of the same name.) Finding its roots in Elvis, the Stray Cats, the Cramps, and everything in between, the genre has, for the most part, gone unnoticed on the North American scene until a few years ago. Largely popular in Europe, psychobilly is slowly seeping into the veins of America with bands like Tiger Army and Devils Brigade. They say we’re always five years behind Europe’s trends. In this case, make that twenty.
The Nekromantix themselves have been around 13 years, playing Germany, Japan, and England—nearly everywhere except the United States. Return of the Loving Dead is their American debut and first studio album in six years. (They released a live album in 2000.) Drummer Peter Sandorff recently completed seminary school and guitarist-brother Peter Sandorff, is a practicing architect whose own schooling constituted the primary reason for the band’s half-a-decade hiatus. Kim Nekroman leads the trio with his coffin bass and Evil Dead antics. He scares the crap out of people for fun.
Last year, on a quest for decent representation they sent a demo to Tim Armstrong of Rancid who had been a fan for years. He signed them immediately (calling them, appropriately, in the middle of the night) to Hellcat Records, and the rest, well, is morbid history in the making.
Tonight’s set opens with “Nice Day for a Resurrection,” the energetic, punkish first track from Return. Kim Nekroman grabs his coffin base and leans way over into the sea of punk rockers contorting his face into exaggerated mock-frightening expressions. The Troubadour’s red and yellow artificial cast an eerie shadow for his Monster Mash meets Elvis voice, and the mob below eats it up. A nice day for a resurrection indeed.
On “Subcultural Girl,” the band’s ode to women they adore, Nekroman strolls to the opposite side of the stage, bass in tow, playing the entire way, leans over and plants a fat, sloppy French, or I should say Danish, kiss on wife Patricia Day, hands still strumming. Never breaking beat, he waltzes a bit more merrily back to his original spot in center stage. That’s musicianship.
The band cuts madly through their set, sticking mainly to new tunes with “Ride Danny Ride” from their first LP Hellbound, “Devil Smile” from Curse of the Coffin, and a others being the rare exceptions. Through song after song Nekroman tosses the coffin around the stage like a rag doll. He whips the seven-foot creature from one side to the other, spinning it, riding it, and even playing it upside down. His grip on his instrument mimics the effect on the crowd; they’re in control. The Nekromantix have their psychobilly audience in a vice, thrashing about with a pull of the level. Never losing control.
Peter Sandorff grinds away on guitar with meticulous tenacity, nailing every solo and guitar lick, maintaining the surprisingly full sound from such a small group. He screams backup lyrics into the microphone, giving tracks like “Haunted Cathouse” and “Gargoyles over Copenhagen” a real sense of urgency. With every note his strained face peels back the skin from his teeth like a skeleton grimacing with unwavering intensity.
But it’s the kinetic drive of Nekroman that ignites the show—he’s a visual magnet all too rare in live performances these days. Nekroman is always on, whether it be rolling his eyes to reveal the whites or teasing the crowd with cranial convulsions and coffin spinning. Fingers whirling in a blizzard of slaps and picks, he transforms the bass into a spectacle of enjoyment. You can’t take your eyes off him, wondering which face he’s going to scare you with next, or if he’ll maneuver the coffin bass above his head, or maybe just ride it on the ground pretending to vaguely remember which notes to play, removing his hands and slapping wildly at the coffin the last moments of each beat with a panicked look on his Chevy Chase (face).
Like your favorite B-horror movie reincarnated into musical form, Nekroman and company scare you into smiling. Though the fear on their faces is farcical, our entertainment is not. The Nekromantix deliver a frightfully good show.