The druggy nightmare that is the internet flyer for their very first gig–a grungy house party in Chalfont, Pa.–should be the initial clue. Bannered over a couple of mangled, post-traumatic automobiles juxtaposed weirdly onto a pink-skied, muddy plantation is the text: BONG KONG…at the Dock Ellis Home for the Chronically On Acid. Underneath the date and address at the bottom of the flyer it says: 9PM Until You’re Fucked. Don’t be a douchebag — bring booze. The next clue should be the comprehensive sticker bundle that comes in a Bong Kong CD EP package. There’s one of a lemon answering a portable phone, another of a kitten with a rainbow beaming across its eyes and a third of a bleak, dusty, Cormac McCarthy-esque landscape littered with dead cowboys. Clearly, Bong Kong-a super loud, super fun, guitar (Kris Tyas) and drums (Eric Lisausky) thrash duo from Philly-take their goofiness seriously.
The party that night was as surreal as the flyer that promoted it. Upstairs, Kris and Eric passed out CDs-their 4-song, barely 10-minute debut EP, Do Not Play in Reverse-and promotional Bong Kong $2 bills-impressively photoshopped, authentic looking bills with Lisausky’s mug substituting for a dead president on the front and cat heads replacing those of the nation’s founding fathers signing the Declaration on the back. As the opening bands rotated on and off the stage in the basement and the drinks became debris on the porch outside, Bong Kong separated itself from the affair for a brief moment. Facing one another, they tapped beers, exchanged the Let’s Do This look and told each other, “hoods up.” When they finally took the stage downstairs (after a set from local Levittown “legend,” 40-oz. Pimp-a shirtless, tat-covered white rapper who lugged around a handle of Jim Beam all night and performed a sparsely attended set that was as uncomfortable as it was horrible), Bong Kong flipped the hoods of their sweatshirts up and flicked on a strobe light sitting atop the Marshall stack. The result-a breakneck set of riffs and yelps that lasted 15 minutes, generously-was nothing short of mesmerizing. It may not have looked it from the back of the 25-or-so capacity space, but the view from the front was instant proof that these dudes are ready for disciples.
But Bong Kong never lets you go too long without realizing that this is supposed to be fun. True, their sound is almost entirely inaudible shrieks, lightning-quick drums and heavy, heady, hyperactive stoner riffs, but to dismiss it as challenging or grave would be foolish. Check the lyric sheet. Tyas is singing about cute bunnies rising up against a drunken farmer (“Funny Bunnies” ) or earning the high score on an arcade game (“I Make Change” ), in the latter cleverly feigning seriousness when he rants “the day will come when you all know my name.” It’s dark, dark humor-in the purest of forms. And don’t confuse their irony with that of a thrift store vest jacket or a three-week old mustache. Theirs is smart and confident like a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or a cartoon about nuclear war. Sure, there will be those who wince and cup their ears, but they’re not “getting it” and need to have a few more drinks. “And you can dance to it but you have to try pretty hard,” adds Tyas.
“I Make Change,” the previously mentioned arcade jam and A-Side to their Ampeater 7-inch, is boldly formless (as is the rest of their hereto-miniscule catalog). After a 20-second intro of warped sound effects, the main riff charges forth like a rhino through a hailstorm. Layered on top are swirls of haunted house ambience and what sounds like a prolonged car accident. Then Lisausky’s drums come in and threaten to shove the thing off the rails. It thrashes and leaps relentlessly, but cohesively, from one idea to the next, completely neglecting to acknowledge anything resembling a chorus or refrain. And then, abruptly, it ends and you realize you’re gasping for air. Had you not read the beginning of the article, you’d be shocked to realize that Tyas is yelping, “I’ve slayed monsters and I’ve sunk threes/Gone gallivanting with a band of thieves” -perfectly depicting the afternoon of a 13-year-old you with a pocket full of quarters.
The B-Side to the single is the perfect counterpoint to “I Make Change.” “Crowded Country Roads,” the closer and, really, the crown jewel of the Do Not Play in Reverse EP, is noticeably less jarring. Tyas himself describes Bong Kong’s songs as either “pretty” or “gross,” and by contrast, “CCR” is practically shimmering. The fundamental groove is a sturdy, bass kick-driven country stomp running alongside a warbly, incessant guitar hook. The track-driven by Lisausky’s impressive, sputtering kicks and fills-starts and stops and starts again throughout. At times it thrashes, like weirdo-punk comparables No Age or Bleach-era Nirvana, and then it rests to gear up for another climax. After a funky breakdown about halfway through the track where Tyas whoops and Lisausky fidgets-a truly danceable moment where Bong Kong maximizes the party vibe it endlessly endorses-the song smolders to a trail of ash, epically concluding this explosion of an EP.
Whether the two dudes of which it comprises are willing to admit it or not, Bong Kong is a carefully constructed shtick. The songs, the house parties, the stage show, the stickers and artwork (which are a result of Tyas’s job at a publishing company where he, apparently, has free reign over the printing machines) are all part of the epic goofiness-or is it the goofy epicness?-that Tyas and Lisausky are building with Bong Kong. And although original band name candidates Spliffsburgh and Headysburgh come close, there really isn’t a name more apt for Bong Kong than that (despite the references and trippy promotional swag, Bong Kong is actually drug free-for reasons no one is at liberty to say but are, I can assure you, exceedingly badass). Planned or not, the two insist that it’s all meant to be fun. Like the bit with the hoods and the strobe light: “Did we plan it weeks or days in advance? No,” says Lisausky. “It was, umm, an hour.”
“It’s just sometimes you’ve got a lot of squares in the room. You gotta light it up,” interjects Tyas. “If we’re gonna get down to the bottom line, we’re trying to get Eric laid… Ladies, he is waiting.”
“I’m clean,” Lisausky.
And that, essentially, is Bong Kong. Let them play your house.
I Make Change
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem080/01 I Make Change.mp3
Crowded Country Roads
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem080/02 Crowded Country Roads.mp3