- by Howard Scott Rating: Release Date: Label:
Is there a tougher job in the music business than that of the opening act, or “warm-up band”? Probably not, especially when the main attraction is a highly popular act with an almost cult-like following.
Just such a task fell to Subpop artist King Tuff last Saturday night at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Florida. Assigned to eat up 45 minutes of stage time before Father John Misty made his appearance, King Tuff showed a years-of-touring level of skill that easily could have allowed the band to be the headliner just about anywhere, anytime.
Kyle Thomas, AKA King Tuff, and his band hit the stage right on time and launched into the title song from his latest album, “The Other”, which gave the audience unfamiliar with his decade-old discography a false sense of complacency. “The Other” is a muted, laid back tune perfect for the still-filing in crowd to absorb, but the gentle nature of the band didn’t last long. The following nine songs of the night all were kick-ass rockers that had the crowd paying much more attention than they had probably planned to. It was all too good to be ignored.
The set list was heavy with tunes from “The Other”, which contains layers of heavy keyboard and electronic ingredients on the recorded LP. That can sometimes be a challenge for the basic four piece stage band to recreate, but King Tuff’s two guitars, bass, and drum versions came across every bit as tasty as the iTunes versions we all know and love or went looking for when we went home Saturday night.
The tribal thumping of “Raindrop Blue” allowed bass player Adrien Young to show off her chops on the four string. Resplendent and statuesque in a bright red jumpsuit, she was hard to miss on stage, and her background vocals on several songs bounced nicely off of Thomas’s more high-register, raspy lead vocals. He sounds a bit like Marc Bolan if Bolan had gargled whiskey daily for a decade or two. Its a darn near perfect voice for a good-old-American in-your-face rock band. There is a resonance there of hard years on the road and too many smoke filled rooms.
Guitarist Nicole Lawrence celebrated her birthday by wowing the audience with shrieking licks that perforated the thick air in the small-venue arena. The combo of Lawrence and Thomas bouncing heavy duty riffs off of one another was as impressive as any guitar-hero duos you will find playing live out there. Lawrence also contributed backing vocals that accented certain offerings.
Attention getters such as “Thru the Cracks” and “Black Moon Spell” (from the album of the same name) kept the frenzied pace marching along, and Psycho Star (which refers to a celestial object, not the band leader) pumped melodious sounds off the walls and into the balcony.
Speaking of “Psycho Star”, Thomas wore the multi-toned red suit that he immortalized in the song’s video for his stage garb. He did, unfortunately, leave the dancing devils from the moving-picture version at home.
The set ended with “No Man’s Land”, that was enhanced by the energetic drum pounding of Dave Christian. Nothing sounds like a vintage Ludwig kit, especially if the person on the throne knows what he is doing. Christian most decidedly does. The percussion was heavenly from beginning to end.
I have sat through lots of opening act sets over the decades, and usually, it’s a matter of “Can we just get this over with as soon as possible.” Nothing could have been more different on this occasion. King Tuff could have doubled their time on stage and it would have been fine with me. I didn’t hear anyone in the throng that seemed to disagree.
Thomas has been vocal that “The Other” is an album of creative rebirth for him, conceived when he was at the lowest point in his career. He, and the rest of us are fortunate for that rebirth. By the looks and sounds of Saturday night, he is just getting started.
His Happy Birthday album from 2010 is still one of the best things he did. Like grunge-pop, a bit like The Vines in places or Ariel Pink.