WHETHER FEATURING COVERS of Gil Scott-Heron's Whitey's on the Moon, Heart's Barracuda, or a Suicidal Tendencies classic, a Kiki & Herb show is a matchless experience. In addition to the music, Kiki, "a 66-ish" torch songstress and Herb, "a gay Jew-tard," regale audiences with tales of prior Catskills tours, deceased children, and—just maybe—their own experiences with scurvy.
Kenny Mellman and Justin Bond have been performing as, respectively, Herb and Kiki since the 1900's. With Mellman on piano and Bond on lead vocals, the duo is pared down—but in no way simple. Recent performances at Elton John's wedding, not to mention a show at Carnegie Hall, speak to their outlandishness. I spoke with Kenny recently, anticipating their show at the Wonder Ballroom on the 29th. We discussed the usual—Madonna, Wu Tang, and Nipsey Russell.
MERCURY: You had to reschedule your earlier Portland show (originally December 18) because you were asked to perform at Elton John's wedding (where Kiki and Herb sang "The King Must Die")?
Kenny Mellman: Actually, at his stag party.
How was it?
It was amazing, because it was very small. It was mostly his friends performing for him.
Was Billie Jean King there?
(Laughs) She was not, unfortunately. My favorite part was, at the very end of it, Elton and David came on stage and thanked everyone. Then they slagged on Madonna for not being there.
Hasn't Madonna adopted a full-time British accent now?
She's doing a lot of things. I heard the New York song ("I Love New York") on her new album (Confessions on a Dance Floor) last night—it's like a four year-old wrote it.
Well, she is writing children's books now.
I think they've numbed her brain.
As for your show in town here, will it be a new show? Are all the sets different?
Every set has been different. We sort of re-energized the act in September. For a while, we had to include some Christmas tunes—by the 29th, though, most of those will be pulled out... hopefully.
You cover REO Speedwagon, Peaches, the Muppets, Tom Jones...
I'm just a ridiculous music geek. It's just obnoxious how many CDs I've acquired over the years.
You play the piano. And Kiki provides the vocals. As far as your covers of Wu-Tang Clan go, how do you arrange, say, "Can It All Be So Simple" for only piano?
(Laughs) Well, I was a classical trained pianist when I was a kid—all through college. The idea of playing pop songs on the piano always intrigued me. The idea of a pop cover—especially a rap song—on the piano is just a good little challenge.
There's never a loop in the background, is there?
Nope. I'm making a lot of noise. Luckily, I've calmed down a bit—I used to break piano strings all the time. Venues normally don't like that.
You mention Le Tigre in your record. Have you collaborated with them?
No, we went on tour with them. But Justin has the great honor of his name being shouted on—oh, god, what's the song on the first album where they list...
Yeah. And, in concert when they do the slideshow, there's a hand-drawn picture of Justin by Kathleen Hanna.
Are you affected by the transit strike, living in Brooklyn?
Luckily, I don't have to go into the city. But all of my friends are going crazy.
Did the death of Nipsey Russell affect your career in any way?
Well, of course. (Laughs) No, it was awful. I have to say, as a child, seeing Nipsey Russell on TV up there with Charles Nelson-Reilly was a disconnect of visibility. And I'm not sure if Nipsey Russell was gay or not.
Well, he never married.
I'm a little too young to have seen the heyday of Nipsey Russell—as to why he was actually on The Match Game a lot, I have no idea.