Interview: Arthur Brown is bringing his Crazy World to New York City

When the Crazy World of Arthur Brown comes to (Le) Poisson Rouge on Feb. 23, the God of Hellfire hints that he might don the famous fire helmet that was a key part of his acts nearly 50 years ago. “Well, I do have it with me, so we’ll see,” Brown told just before the start of an eight-date U.S. tour.

This will be the first time the shock rock pioneer will perform in New York since 1969. That year, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown played at both the Felt Forum (now The Theater at Madison Square Garden) and the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. In 1968, they did four dates at the former Fillmore East, on Second Avenue in the East Village.

For this tour, Brown promises a mix of his classic hits and newer material, from his 2014 album Zim Zam Zim

His 1968 debut album, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown featured hits such as “Fire” and a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You.” The album peaked at #7 on the Billboard 200 chart on Nov. 16, 1968 and spent 24 weeks on the chart. “Fire” hit #2 on Billboard’s “The Hot 100 Singles” chart a month earlier. The song’s opening line — “I am the god of hellfire and I bring you” — has been sampled in other songs many times over the years, most notably on The Prodigy’s 1992 song “Fire.”

In addition to his extensive catalogue, Brown will also bring his trademark theatrics to the stage. “I sing in a kind of theatrical style and I present on stage theatrically, whether it’s sort of impromptu, immediate theater or whether it’s more costume stuff,” he said. “And an occasional fire helmet.” His elaborate stage makeup, costumes, and other visual elements inspired bands such as Alice Cooper and KISS.

The psychedelic rock icon noted that he doesn’t use the flaming headgear often these days. Due to insurance and safety concerns, many venues won’t allow him to use it — even though his new helmet is safer than what he used nearly 50 years ago. “Occasionally when we’re touring around, I’ll get to a city where we did that and they’ll show me a bit of a burn on the ceiling or floor or something,” he recalled, laughing. 

The singer will have other visual elements in his show: “a suit which is made of light — light fibers — so I get to be lit up from the inside, as it were,” he said. “It’s like a psychedelic coat of many colors.” 

Although Brown lived in Austin, Texas. from 1980-1996 and still visits regularly (his son and grandson live in the U.S.), he has fond memories of his stays in New York City. One of his favorite places to play was Steve Paul’s The Scene, a nightclub that was on West 46th Street from 1964 to 1970. “Basically, if you were a touring musician, you would end up around about 11, 12 o’clock at Steve Paul’s Scene,” he said. “You’d jam with all sorts of people.”

He also reminisced about his stays at the former Gorham Hotel on West 55th Street (now the Blakely Hotel) and its proximity to Central Park. “A lot of the time we seemed to get there during the summer. Outdoor New York was my favorite,” Brown said. “And of course, there were the buskers. I’m not sure if they’re still there, I’ll find out. We stayed for weeks on end at the Gorham — we didn’t necessarily go home when the tour was over.”

After this tour, which begins tonight in Los Angeles and ends Feb. 25 in Austin, Brown plans to set out on another leg later this year in cities that he was unable to schedule this time. He also looks forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of his biggest hit single “Fire” next year with another tour and a re-release of “the old classic album in its original mix, all kinds of original stuff with it,” he promised.

Tickets for his New York performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) are available here, with only General Admission advance ($30) and day of show ($35) tickets still available. The show is scheduled to start at 8 p.m., with doors open an hour earlier. The minimum age for admission is 18 years old. Electric Citizen, a hard rock 70s metal band from Ohio, will open for Brown.

(Le) Poisson Rouge is a multimedia cabaret in Greenwich Village, located on the site of a former legendary nightclub, the Village Gate (1958-1994), which played a significant role in the 1960s counterculture that emerged from the neighborhood.