Photo by Mikel Avery

Emmett Kelly is perhaps one of the most devoted, multi-talented musicians working in rock music today. His repertoire includes stints with bands including Bonnie Prince Billy, Beth Orton, Joan of Arc, Angel Olsen, and Ty Segall. He has firmly and autonomously cemented himself in the American rock landscape, and that is because he is uncompromisingly a musician by trade. He grew up with music in Van Nuys, California, took it with him to Chicago, and landed back in LA, having released his fifth studio album this past March under The Cairo Gang moniker.

Kelly adopted the name The Cairo Gang in 1996, not because his given name also happens to be that of the most famous circus clown “Weary Willie,” but because he assumes various musical identities as a performer. He likes to distance himself from his personal identity and the one he exudes while on stage. He’s been weaving in and out of the project for about two decades, but only because he thrives on working on multiple endeavors with a diverse array of artists. According to Kelly, “Every project enriches you in different ways. One good thing is to understand the potentially volatile nature of interactions between band leaders and bands. I have worked with lots of people who handle this differently, and hopefully I take cues from those who are better at it than others. But the main reward is to play different types of music all the time.”

Photo by Nancy Neil

Upon moving back to LA, he teamed up with psych-rock mainstay Ty Segall, performing in his band the Muggers, as well as his most recent project The Freedom Band. Segall also lent his drumming abilities to The Cairo Gang’s latest album Untouchable, which was primarily written and recorded by Kelly, with support from bass players Shayde Sartin and Ryan Weinstein. The Cairo Gang is indubitably Kelly’s most preponderant project, one that he keeps coming back to and continues to evolve in a very natural, fluid way.

Untouchable is a succinct, 8-track album that isn’t shy about borrowing from classic rock ranging from the 60’s to the 80’s, in a way that is reverential, yet never redundant. Kelly is an innovator, making surf rock, psychadelia, and jangly alt-rock sound contemporary, the instrumentals amplified by Kelly’s buoyant, whimsical vocals. There are traces of Clapton and his Cream years, David Bowie, and the Yardbirds throughout the LP. “In the Heart of Her Heart” exposes Ty Segall’s influence, conveying a more punk/garage-rock sentiment and featuring a hefty, emphatic guitar solo by Kelly.

The Cairo Gang will be performing on July 17th with CFM, (the moniker of Charles Moothart), who is also a devoted member of the Ty Segall camp, performing in at least three of Segall’s various projects. The show will take place at Zebulon, the beloved Brooklyn venue that closed in 2012 and re-opened in Frogtown this past April. You can snag tickets for the Monday night show here, and pick up a copy of Untouchable on Drag City.

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Cairo Gang