Kirin J Callinan may be the devil, but he seems like someone you’d like to have over for a dinner party. With a Cheshire Cat grin he appeared in a comically thick cloud of smoke at the start of his midnight Sunday set at Red Eyed Fly. He sort of looks like Nic Cage, but maybe that’s just the appearance he chooses to take for me.
Kirin was shirtless with a tattoo reading “quesadilla” scrawled on the side of his lean, muscular torso. On his head was a silky, mullet-like ponytail, pencil-thin mustache paired with a petite soul patch, eyeliner, and earrings dangling. He was alone on the stage accompanied with electronics and a Caribbean blue Fender. The sound he makes is masculine and industrial, somewhere on the spectrum between Nick Cave and Marilyn Manson.
Like Cave or Bowie, Kirin is a bizarre but magnetic frontman who comes across as cool while doing things lesser performers couldn’t get away with in a million years. Callinan brandished the microphone stand like a pitchfork on the vocal-only set finale “The Toddler.” “I’m the toddler. I’m not a baby, not yet a boy. I’m the toddler,” he howled with a grin while snapily shifting from side to side. This was received like much of Kirin’s set, with stunned silence and chuckles — though to be clear the crowd was totally in to it.
On “Halo,” the closest to conventional-sounding song in his woefully short set, thick Depeche Mode synths and drum machine beats danced around bizarro Bruce Springsteen vocals.
Previewing his setlist, Callinan said, “I’m going to play a song some of you might know, then a song no one knows — but me — and then I’m going to play a song that’s questionable if it’s even a song at all.”
In a New York Times write up of Kirin J Callinan’s record “Embracism” the reviewer called it “one of the most unpleasant listening experience in recent memory,” which I don’t think they totally meant as a negative. The Australian crooner and guitarist is out there, and he’s not for everybody. But, hey, I never would have guessed listeners would have so enthusiastically latched on to the fantastic Future Islands, so I could be wrong — maybe the general public is more willing to embrace weird than I give ’em credit for. Either way, the people who Kirin is for (me, it turns out) will find him fascinating and unlike nearly anything else.
Kirin got a late start, giving him enough runway to get through just four songs before being gently carried off stage smiling by two older men in suits. I don’t know if they were security or what, but I’d like to imagine Callinan was gently packaged like high-priced audio gear in a TSA-approved sarcophagus to slumber until his next destination. Whatever that destination may be, keep an eye out for Kirin J Callinan.
As the set ended and the smoke cleared, one enthusiastic guy I overheard behind me summed it up as well as possible: “What the [expletive] was that? That was… transcendent.”