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July 6th, 2004

MUSIC: kHz at CBGB’s

by John Coakley

CBGB’s is a strange place. The club wears its ragged history with pride; the exposed pipes and ancient posters speak equally to both stubborn permanence as well as inevitable decay. And yes, the bathrooms are as scary as they ever were. The stage is wide for a venue this small, and its weathered look makes it all the easier to imagine your favorite rock legends, from The Talking Heads to Living Color to Quicksand stomping around up there. The sound system is legendary, very loud and very clear, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who is being pushed through those massive cabinets.

I’m here to see Long Island band kHz, but right now I’m enduring a band that plays a polished blend of Nickelback and Creed. The lead singer has that tough but vulnerable tattooed loner thing working for him, but while he sings he makes goofy, curled lip expressions that start out Billy Idol and end up like Joe Cocker. The lead guitarist makes similar faces during his wah-wah drenched solos. You need a lot of talent to get away with such moves, and while these guys are good at what they do and they seem to mean it, the music seems out of place in the house that the Ramones built. But then, not every band that plays here is destined for greatness.

Then kHz takes the stage: two imposingly built shaven-headed guys on guitar and bass, a leaner longhaired drummer, and a petite, curvaceous longhaired singer.?Ǭ She very politely thanks the audience for coming on such a cold night, and the band proceeds to rip into, “Let it go.” The singer, whose name is Raiana, swivels and grinds to the rhythm in a manner both erotic and tough-almost menacing. Her voice is beautiful and she has the technique to use it well. It’s clear that she could sing in any musical style she wanted, which makes it all the more gratifying when the song’s mood switches from pained to furious and she squats down on her haunches to give a low, gravelly scream that would impress most death metal fans. She looks a bit like the girl from Evanescence, but its clear that Raiana could easily kick her ass; this is not just a hot chick whose role is to help sell records. She is feeling the words, and you get the impression that she has no choice but to sing them with conviction.

When the lead singer is this charismatic and engaging, the other members can either try to compete or just play the songs well and stay out of the way. The men of kHz have chosen to do the latter, much to their credit. They are not show-offs, but that does not make them dull. Damon, the drummer, has a way with syncopation that helps the songs swing without turning them into derivative rap metal. Denny plays the bass with ingenuity when there is room for it and simplicity when the song demands it. Pull, the guitarist, has no problem matching the bass note for note when more aggression is needed; but as the song “It” demonstrates, he can also drop precise shards of noise in between Denny’s quarter notes. The result is chilling, as if you’re watching your sanity come apart like so much peeling paint.

All four members of kHz use anger and restraint, passion and taste, to get their point across. Comparisons to early Tool and Alice in Chains are apt, although when the band first formed eight years ago they were more of a studio based industrial band. Raiana started writing more personal lyrics after losing loved ones to the tragedy of 9/11, and it became clear that a more straightforward, live sound was needed to match those words. This cold night at CBGB’s-where so many of New York’s finest bands have found their voice-has proven that need met.

The upcoming E.P. on Pro-Pain records will likely provide further proof of their ability. All fans of dark, passionate rock music should give kHz a listen. www.thekhz.com

John Coakley

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