I think the most apt way to describe seeing King Tuff live is to describe the banner in front of which he performed. The words “KING TUFF” are spelled out in flames, surrounded by sunglass-clad skulls with varying numbers of teeth missing. The sunglasses have the words “KING” and “TUFF” emblazoned across the lenses.
King Tuff is not big on subtlety.
On Wednesday, Vermont-based garage rock weirdos King Tuff played to a packed house at the Church–part of the string of final shows this fall before R5 cedes the storied space to an after school group. Mr. Tuff (actually named Kyle Thomas) may be one of the world’s best ambassadors of dad rock, slinging shamelessly massive riffs with a bright blue Gibson SG through a beat up Marshall full stack, backed by what appeared to be two aging roadies for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band exuded a certain skeezy charisma, affecting the part of rock star idols (replete with sweet moves) despite the dingy basement setting. They wasted little time in working the crowd up, which devolved into a mass of moshing entropy after two or three songs that only grew throughout the night. If you suspended you sense of disbelief and squinted just a little bit, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine King Tuff in the mid-seventies selling out stadiums. For now, though, he seems perfectly content being the freak working up weirdos in basements–and I seriously dig it.
Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to see Future Islands headline the First Unitarian Church. Accompanying me were WKDU DJs Dr. Plotkin and Peter Liu, of The Love X-Perience and Hear Hear Mix respectively. Supporting were Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Chiffon. Soundwise, the bill was pretty darn diverse, but all bands had their hometown in common: Baltimore.
One cool thing about the Baltimore scene is its interconnection – the music might be wildly different, but the musicians are all uniformly skilled and versatile. Dan Frome and Denny Bowen, both of weird noise rock quartet Roomrunner, were spotted filling in on bass and drums for Ed Schrader and Future Islands respectively. I’m normally used to these guys playing totally different types of music, but they still killed it in this setting.
All groups on this bill played perfectly. Chiffon caught my attention with a weird hipstery take on 90s radio R&B and BMORE CLUB that got me movin’. Their beats were very, very reminiscent of the programming on WERQ Baltimore 92.3 FM a.k.a. 92Q JAMS, a station that is best listened to cruising the streets of West Baltimore around 10PM in a late-model Cadillac.
To me, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat always sounds like The Monkees on PCP, and this was no exception. Every time I’ve seen them on the home front, this two-piece always succeeds in turning the floor into a swirling mosh pit. Unfortunately, this did not happen in Philadelphia. For further weirdo cultural experiences courtesy of Ed Schrader, check out the Ed Schrader Show on YouTube.
Lead singer Sam Herring mentioned that he was feeling a little under the weather that night. He was definitely holding back, but still delivered a great performance. He is a conduit for the music – gyrating and radiating sexual energy like a balding, bodybuilding Elvis gone new wave. Bassist William Cashion lashed out with expressiveness that a lot of bass players could take a lesson from. As the main live instrument in the mix, Cashion simultaneously anchored the band and played singing leads.
Synth player Gerrit Welmers’ compositional skills play a huge role in the Future Islands sound, and Denny Bowen’s always a clock on drums. Their live personas were somewhat less expressive than those of Herring and Cashion, but steadfast nonetheless.
That night kind of embodied why everyone needs a good show every so often. I know I did. It was…refreshing. Also, sidenote, I ran into Liz of Liz and the Lost Boys afterwards. You can peep the session they did with WKDU (and that I engineered, woo soundz!) here.
I was extremely excited to get a chance to catch Kishi Bashi at the First Unitarian Church on September 14. This was his second show he’s played at the Church, last year playing in the basement, this time playing in the sanctuary upstairs. I have seen him perform before, just a few months ago at Firefly Festival. I was blown away by his performance and I knew right away his Philadelphia show was one not to miss.
One of the opening acts was Elizabeth and the Catapult. Never hearing of them before, I was unsure of what I was about to see. The band, comprised of Elizabeth Ziman on vocals and keys, Danny Molad on drums, and Peter Lalish on guitar; was a mix of poppy rock comparable to Rilo Kiley, loungey vocals of Lana Del Rey mixed with heavy jazz influences. Elizabeth opened up with a solo version of “Thank You For Nothing.” She stood on stage with a keyboard and sparse lighting. The song captivated the entire room and it was the perfect first song to open the set with. After loud cheers, the set picked up intensity. Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees came on stage a few times to collaborate with the band as well. Towards the end, Elizabeth and the Catapult played a moving cover of Dawes’s “When My Time Comes,” to which Elizabeth prefaced the cover by saying Dawes has been one of her favorite bands. She also played accordion and various other instruments throughout the rest of the set. After the surprise standout performance of Elizabeth and the Catapult, it was now time for Kishi Bashi. He announced that the show that night would be their last one for a few days, and that he wanted to play for as long as possible–a goal he fulfilled, ending his set well after midnight. Three new songs were debuted from his upcoming album that is scheduled for release next spring, including a personal favorite “Mister Steak.”
Seeing Kishi Bashi is an experience, some parts of the show seem like they don’t make sense, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. As a classically trained violinist, it is clear his early training in music is still very much part of his work. He played long solos, looping parts over and over until it sounded like an entire orchestra was filling the church. He recorded his voice, either singing pitches or beatboxing over the violins. Then, catching everyone off guard, he would double or half the speed of the loops creating an entirely different sound. Tall Tall Trees, a frequent collaborator with Kishi Bashi, again joined the stage to play more songs with his lightup banjo.
Taking a break before “I Am the Antichrist to You,” Kishi Bashi made some jokes about singing about an Antichrist in a church. He also took the time to express his gratitude for the Philadelphia crowd and how much he really does enjoy coming to this city. He finished his set with a highlight from his debut 151a: “Manchester.” The place lit up with cheers for an encore and after less than a minute he was back on stage. He promised to play one more song, “Bright Whites,” which was soon followed by a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” with the bassist on vocals and Tall Tall Trees on banjo again. Kishi Bashi jumped into the crowd while the song played and crowd surfed, videotaping the whole thing on his phone.
Getting to see Kishi Bashi is never a disappointment. He is an incredibly talented musician and an amazing performer with amazing energy. Be sure to download 151a and be on the lookout for new material from him in 2014!
At this point, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen Tigers Jaw (maybe five?). Back in high school, I’d venture into the city to catch them at small venues like The Fire and Ava House. They would frequently play with another group of my favorite local emo-punks, Algernon Cadwallader. It was those shows that foreshadowed, and perhaps even sparked the fuse that led to my current musical tastes.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d still be able to appreciate Tigers Jaw as I used to, and was concerned that I’d feel nostalgic at best. However, it turned out that their music resonated with me just as much, if not even more, than it did before.
Local punk favorites The Menzingers were kind enough to stop in a few years ago before their show at First Unitarian Church and play a an incredible in-studio set for us. Combining their stellar musicianship and infectious songwriting, the Menzingers in-studio is a fantastic showcase for one of the best bands in the area.