The Marcus King Band Rocks Rockwood Music Hall In NYC
Words & Images by Aaron “Neddy” Stein
The Marcus King Band :: 3.2.2016 :: Rockwood Music Hall :: New York, NY
Sometimes you’re driving along and you see something in the distance and you think to yourself “Man, that looks huge!” only to get close and realize that the potential mountain was just a proverbial molehill. And other times as the intervening miles decrease, you realize that you might have had no idea just how big, not just a mountain, but a range of peaks and valleys with all sorts of crags and paths to explore was actually looming ahead.
I saw Marcus King coming from off in the distance after hearing some post-CMJ buzz. I checked out his debut album and was plenty impressed with his skills and maturity, but it wasn’t until The Marcus King Band was right in front of me last night at Stage 2 of Rockwood Music Hall that I saw the extent of what is coming.
Let’s get the inevitable out of the way: there is no avoiding comparisons. Warren Haynes, of course. King’s band is firmly inside The Allmans radius, and his guitar playing often has that sharp-toothed tone that’s strongly reminiscent of the Gov’t Mule frontman. But watching King front a band that included bass, drums and organ, naturally, and also a two-man sax-and-brass horn section, I was struck at how The Marcus King Band is a compromise between the raw jazz-meets-Southern-rock energy of the original Derek Trucks Band and the more polished soul-blues-groove of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Comparisons aside, King is his own man, and despite his youth, make no mistake about it, his guitar playing, singing and band leadership are a Hungry Man-sized meal that’s tough to fully swallow in one sitting.
Last night’s show was impressive for the music first and foremost. King led his band through battle-tested material off the last album and launched into dozens of exploratory jams that, sure, featured plenty of fiery guitar solos, but also a healthy portion of full-band raging that had the packed-house whooping and dancing from start to finish. I was also impressed with King’s presence: not for nothing, the guy was plenty likable in this nice-to-meet-you, first time gig for many in the room. There were several moments where, a few steps into a solo, he would, in a burst of not-too-showy showmanship yowl something like “How you doing New York City!?” before shifting gears and thrilling the crowd with some death-defying solo.
While his base was steady Allmans-ness, the music did plenty of figure eights and off-genre loop-de-loops. An early extended section of the show dipped into a guitar solo, backflipped through a ring-of-fire instrumental thing, clearing way for the bassist and horn players to 180-pivot into a surprising-to-me-at-least jam on Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4” before somersaulting through several more movements and ending back in something slow and bluesy once again. It’s one of those quintessential “Wait, is this all the same song or four songs stitched together” kind of mindbenders that separates the mountains from the molehills.
Of course, where do we go from here? From the sounds of things, King is in good shape. He played several new songs off an already-upcoming new album due this summer. One song, “Rita” about a character from the TV show Dexter (not enough songs written about TV characters these days) showed a nice depth in his songwriting and the creatively-named “Thespian Espionage” (personally, I would’ve gone with “Thespionage” but what do I know?) was an epic instrumental that required multiple limbs from each band member to make its pretzeled jazz-funk-rock-MKB-band thing come to life.
Between the band’s prowess and the room’s energy, it was one of those saw-him-when kind of nights that are truly few and far between. There was something special about it being at Rockwood, as well, one of those rooms that feels unhindered by baggage or the politics of the NYC music scene. And while King and his excellent band have some buzz, surely a following closer to home and big name patrons looking out for them, there was something fitting about playing this set in that room. Because from the looks of things, the next mountain will be a bigger one for The Marcus King Band, so get your climbing gear ready.