Don't get me wrong I love meeting Kelly here. It's a great place to watch him in action and provides an environment as dubiously sinister and sincere as Kelly himself. Centerfolds is like his second home, and the dancers adore him. They come over to say hello while we finish off a pitcher in the pool room, and he smacks their asses, grabs their boobs, and makes lascivious jokes while they sit on his lap.
At our most recent confab, on an unseasonably chilly Thursday night in mid-October, a leggy brunette named Hunter comes over to tell us that some guy at the club just told her that her name means "whale vagina" in German (which would only be true if her name was Wal Scheide). I attempt to console her by telling her that my full first name, Nikina, means something close to "fuck us" in Arabic. Kelly attempts to console her by suggesting she persuade the guy to buy a lap dance, then dump a vial of fire ants down his pants.
"[Centerfolds] has been everything for me," Kelly tells me after Hunter goes back to working the floor. "It has a dark energy to it, much like myself. This is the first thing I've had for myself in 11 years, outside the band."
Kelly definitely has a "dark energy," despite his friendly demeanor. He looks the same offstage as on torso and arms covered in webs of tattoos; dreadlocked, forked black ponytail hanging to his waist; eyes adorned with black makeup to resemble the eyes of an Egyptian pharaoh; painted black lips constantly curling into big, devilish grins. When he feels he's telling me something important (which is pretty much any time he speaks), he grabs both of my hands in his, leans into my face and looks me dead in the eyes.
The music Kelly makes with Blessedbethyname is heavy, intricate, and personal. The band's latest album, Phallus in Viscera, is a conceptual odyssey about finding the truth of the self through suffering in five acts. Sonically, it's a metallic merging of gritty, atmospheric guitars; throbbing rhythms and battering-ram beats; haunting, hissing synths; and Kelly's vocals, which encompass everything from a festering whisper to hair-raising screams that strike as suddenly as a snake. Lyrically, the album's a philosophical apocalypse that digs into love, sex, suffering, death, birth, and the self with an ethereal eye. Kelly calls Phallus in Viscera "in and of itself a masterpiece for what it means to me."
And good things are happening for Blessedbethyname, a band with a fierce local following that's been blowing minds at Valley venues for the better part of a decade. Kelly has a reputation as an intense, disturbing artist. He's performed with four broken ribs and a hyperextended arm, he's cut himself to shreds onstage with razor blades, and he's planning to have his two young daughters bathe him in bull's blood at the Blessedbethyname show on October 27.
Such acts may be pure performance to others, but what still makes Blessed's show so compelling after 11 years is that it's not a performance. It's an exorcism of Kelly's minions, of mental demons, and there's no line between life and art for him. He purposely dives head-first into darkness because that has been the educator of his life and the catalyst of his music. He frequently talks about "the value of despair."
"I find any type of peaceful living or safe indulgence to be such a blind approach to what one's capable of. My life is a piece of art in the moment. And that's never safe. Never," Kelly says. "Every now and then, the Tree of Rock needs to be watered with the blood not of those who write songs, but those who live songs."
And the songs he's lived sound like epic nightmares. Phallus in Viscera is the catharsis of a man who has been to hell and back. Listening to the 33-year-old singer's stories, one gets the impression that he should be dead a dozen times over already.
Most people who've been in the local metal scene for any significant amount of time have heard this story: Back in 2003, Kelly shot himself in the chest. He was sentenced to five years' probation and wound up in the county jail for six months for skipping town while on probation. People speculated about why Kelly shot himself, guessing at everything from relationship issues to drug problems. But nobody really knows exactly why Kelly did it except Kelly, and he never really talked about it, he says. Until tonight.