Walker Kong and the Dangermakers (now simply Walker Kong) are a local band founded in the late 1990s. The original lineup, which released the aptly-titled debut disc The Early Years (1999), was fronted by Jeremy Ackerman, with his girlfriend (now wife) Alex Reinhart on bass, Emily Cahill on drums, Katie Kanwischer on percussion, and my cousin Sara Vargas on keyboard. Sara was my super-cool cousin, the one who took me to my first-ever concert when I was a teenager: an all-ages show at the 7th Street Entry, with Zuzu’s Petals opening for Run Westy Run.
Jeremy and Alex were experienced musicians, but the other three were considerably less so—that was part of the fun, and the conceit. Their early gigs included my first-ever visit to the Turf Club, and had the women in a rotating wardrobe of themed outfits.
In 1999, Walker Kong were booked (for how little, I can only imagine) to play my sister Julia’s high school graduation party. When it rained, the show went on in my parents’ living room—an event that in terms of sheer coolness completely obliterated the graduation parties of any of my sister’s Cretin-Derham Hall classmates.
The Early Years was a pretty rough cut at the Walker Kong sound, but by the time the band got to There Goes the Sun (2001) and Transparent Life (2004), they had expanded their lineup and refined their sound. For years I assumed that I just liked the band because my cool older cousin was in it—but by the time of the transcendent (and jam-packed) Sun release show at the Entry, I couldn’t deny it. Walker Kong are a damn good band, all nepotism aside. But don’t take my word for it.
“A typical Walker Kong listening experience conjures images of Johnny Marr and the Africa 70 rhythm section backing a hyperactive Edwyn Collins on a high-energy rendition of Jonathan Richman’s ‘I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.’ While that may be enough for any pop music fan to have trouble wrapping their head around, Minneapolis’s Walker Kong is assuredly, first and foremost, a good-time, party, and dance outfit.” (Bryan Caroll, AllMusic.com)
“What made the Minneapolis quintet’s proper debut [There Goes the Sun] so momentous was the way it infused orchestral pop with an undeniable groove—something Belle and Sebastian didn’t discover until recently. Walker Kong combines Beulah’s sunny trumpet reveries with the Go-Betweens’ jangly genius.” (Magnet Magazine, “Lost Classics,” 2009)
“The songs on Walker Kong’s Deliver Us From People [are] so cleverly written and layered with happiness, innocence, and dancing guitar plucks that it’s easy to fully embrace them the first time out. But it’s when you dig deeper that you see and hear the songs for what they truly are: little allegories on the human condition.” (Molly Priesmeyer, City Pages, 2007)
Jeremy and Alex eventually moved to Wisconsin and the band became less active. My cousin Sara spent increasing amounts of time in Tulum, Mexico—where she died in a tragic accident in 2009. (Appropriately, one of the last times we hung out was when we went to a show at the Entry: the Little Ones. The fact that my review of the show was one of my all-time shortest for the Daily Planet may or may not have had something to do with the wild night Sara and I made of it.) At Sara’s memorial service I saw Jeremy and Alex and their two young children, along with Emily and Katie; we talked about old times, and about the possibility that some time, the band might return to a local stage.
Now, it seems, that time is nigh. The band have just launched—you got it—a Kickstarter to fund their forthcoming album Phazes of Light. With two weeks to go they’re already $1,070 of the way towards their total goal of $1,850, and the promised perks are great. A digital copy of the album can be yours for just $10, a signed IRL copy for only $15. At $50 you get to join the band on a bike tour, at $500 you get a Jeremy Ackerman original painting, and at $1,000 you can keep up with the Gablers and have your very own Walker Kong living room concert. Do it!
Photo courtesy Walker Kong