OK Then

Isn't it Ironic? No. Believe it or not, the gaudy Christian rock of the Knights of the New Crusade is meant to be taken seriously

I wonder if I'll go to hell for this one?

Let me set the scene for you. Lit by scattered, hanging Christmas lights, Café Du Nord is packed for "Stinky's Peepshow," the monthly club night that offers "Large 'n' Lovely" go-go dancers, a surly crowd of regulars, and a raucous, often tasteless lineup of bands. Bursting out of their tiny rubber suits, the go-go dancers writhe on platforms to the DJ's blaring garage rock as dudes and dudettes throw back beers, waiting for the first act of the night to go on. I step outside for a smoke.

Halfway through my cigarette (yes Mom, I know, I'll quit soon), this happens: A 6-foot-6-inch man wearing silvery sleeves meant to look like chain mail, a red and black tunic with a crest stitched in the middle, and a shiny metal torpedo of a helmet that covers his entire face bursts from the venue with determined speed. He walks out into the street, hoists a gigantic Conan the Barbariansword into oncoming traffic, and bellows something like, "Prepare thyselves for the message of the Lord."

Curious, methinks.

My interest piqued, I follow the knight inside, where he proceeds to take the stage alongside his cohorts: a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, all similarly dressed. Like knights. The frontman (we'll call him Lancelot) announces his band's name -- the Knights of the New Crusade -- then drives his sword into the sturdy wooden stage, where it sticks straight up. (Later, an audience member will reach out to touch this sword and accidentally cut herself; yes, it's sharp.)

"I don't care about democracy/ I just want a theocracy," Lancelot sings, as his band plays the kind of distorted boogie-woogie surf rock you'd expect to hear in a cheesy '70s movie about drag racing. In between songs he sermonizes to the crowd about Jesus, setting the mood for tunes like "'E' Is for Evil," featuring lyrics such as, "He tried to find love in a little pill/ He didn't know it was from the devil."

And the crowd loves it. People are having a good time, cheering and smiling and laughing. Because, we assume, this is all a big joke, right? There's absolutely no way that four guys dressed like knights performing songs about Christ in a quasi-strip club filled with double-D's and Schlitz-aholics can be serious. I decide to take a straw poll. I ask 15 people in the crowd whether they think these guys are being ironic. All 15 agree that they are.

"Burning Man is one giant rave," announces Lancelot earnestly from the stage, his co-musicians wearing solemn, expressionless faces. "What you need is true Christian fellowship." Everyone chuckles: This guy is good at this. Lancelot then raises a tambourine shaped like one of those Christian fishes; he starts a-shakin' it and shimmies into the next number, "Secret Sign," a song about said fish: "We're not outlawed anymore/ I bought a fish sign at the store/ And I'm proud to wear it on my car/ It tells the world that he/ Died on the cross for me/ And everybody else near and far."

These Knights are hilarious. They've got their act together. They're the perfect parody of that dang-blasted Christian right, the group we all love to hate, especially these days. Oh, and there's one more thing: Contrary to what I and everyone around me wants to think, the Knights of the New Crusade are totally, completely, straight-facedly serious. Believe it or not, they've come to save your soul.

For the last six months, the Knights of the New Crusade have been booking shows all around town, events like Thee Parkside's "Budget Rock Showcase," venues such as the Hemlock Tavern and Bottom of the Hill, where they have a gig tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 24. What most of us assume, which is what the co-owner of Café Du Nord tells me when I ask her, is that the band is putting on a show, lampooning Christian rock or something. This is not the case. After the group's Du Nord set I track down the Knights outside, intent on figuring out their true intentions, and as we talk it becomes increasingly, dumbfoundingly clear that these guys are legit, the real deal, determined to spread their message.

"Right now it's about 60 percent secular clubs like this and 40 percent in the Christian clubs, the coffeehouses and such," explains Mike Andrews, aka Lancelot. "We used to avoid places where they had alcohol, but we realized we had to go out among the people just as Jesus did. He was with the tax collectors, the Philistines, the prostitutes." The plus-size exotic dancers ....

In addition to Andrews, the band consists of John Fischer on guitar, "Scoop" on bass, and Lumpy Stabley on drums. The musicians met in Fresno, where they went to high school together. Seeking a larger audience, they eventually moved to Emeryville, where they've been making music ever since. Their debut CD, My God Is Alive! Sorry About Yours!, was released in April; on the inside of the CD is a picture of the band members in their signature outfits preparing to behead a bound and kneeling Satan.

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