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–KING’S X: Live At The Music Factory, Battle Creek, Mich. 09-09-17

–wsg: Kings of Spade/local openers

Some special events in one’s life invoke extraordinary expectations. Whether it be a first date with that one perfect sweetheart, or the anticipation of a very first metal concert (Savatage, BTW), the sheer excitement level can be overwhelming. But what about when that date stands you up, or your favorite band storms offstage after three songs — or worse yet, cancels entirely? Is a precipitous fall of disappointment inevitable? Not in the case of King’s X, it isn’t. 

The Houston-based progressive hard rock trio has been one of my favorite bands for over 20 years. But for whatever reason –work conflicts, infrequent tour dates in the area, poor promotion, etc. — I had never had a chance to catch King’s X live before Saturday. That long spand of withdrawal time, coupled with the unique mystique of their music, cast an unyielding spell on me. Their music offers a rare combination of the best elements of progressive rock and metal — heavy, complex riffs; superb musicianship; high energy — with the beautiful vocal harmonies, folky arrangements, and uplifting lyrical vibes of the psychelic and hippie movements. Needless to say, that first King’s X concert is an experience I was unwilling to miss again. 

After soundcheck went a bit late, the show kicked off at about 7:30 with the first of two local acts. Without knowing who the bands were, it’s hard to offer much in the way of commentary. Both bands featured great musicianship and played some intriguing cover tunes from the likes of Simple MindsHendrix, and Zeppelin. I will offer this one piece of unsolicited advice: all bands, local or otherwise, should try to identify themselves visually while onstage. Whether it be investing in a small scrub backdrop, or even putting the band logo on the bass-drum head, it’s crucial to show potential new fans who you are. Trying to rely on people being able to hear you announce your band name over the din of crowd chatter is just not going to cut it. Why bother opening for larger bands if people won’t know who you are? Okay, soapbox dismounted. 

Kings of Spade, the national touring opener, undoubtedly surprised a lot of people this night. This intriguing quartet from Honolulu, Hawaii looks like a punk rock band; the visual centerpiece being the pink mohawk-sporting lead vocalist Kasi Nunes. But when Nunes sang her first line, she belted out a soulful melody that was not unlike a marriage of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Throughout the Kings’ set, Nunes’ voice soared and sailed with power,  range, and emotion. Yes, Nunes is good, exceptionally good. Her bandmates are not too shabby either, and the Kings of Spade’s balanced mix of alternative rock, soul, and funk was highly entertaining, if also strikingly different than the headliner. Their stirring cover of Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” converted many a fan, myself included. Kings of Spade are well worth a second look. 

Then came the part of the show where one desperately works their way up to as close to the front of the stage as possible. I managed to worm myself over to about the third row, stage right. Finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, we heard Dug Pinnick’s unmistakable voice murmur quietly into the mic as the black curtain lifted. Pinnick, sporting all black and donning his trademark left-handed bass, rolled right into the monolithic riff of “Groove Machine.” Ty Labor’s uber-crunchy guitar promptly joined in, alongside the Bonham-esque deep pocket  of Jerry Gaskill. The harmonious King’s X groove party was on. 

Our heads bopped and feet moved almost in time to the heavy opener, as Pinnick directed the audience to sing nearly all the song’s lyrics. While I generally don’t approve of a singer passing off his vocal duties on the crowd, in this case it contributed to the inclusive and peaceful atmosphere. The band picked up the pace with the more metallic “The World Around Me,” off their 1992 self-titled album; they then deftly shifted back to the heavy grooves of the crushing “Pillow,” with us in the audience again singing the nearly  hymnlike chorus: “Tide underside my pillow/ willow thundering.” On “Flies and Blue Skies,” Tabor’s chiming arpeggios rang as clear and true as the haunting vocal harmonies. 

The hits and sublime moments just kept coming. At one point while Pinnick was tuning his bass, someone yelled out for “Cigarettes.” Pinnick calmly answered, “Yes, that’s what we’re playing next,” and King’s X indeed played the serenely melancholy ballad. Of course, veteran bands like King’s X have an extremely deep back catalog. But it just wouldn’t feel like a real show without them playing all the hits such as “Black Flag,” “Lost In Germany,” and “Summerland.” Thankfully, they played all these, as well as more obscure sing-a-long gems as “Pray” and the gorgeous “A Box.” 

All the while, Pinnick’s bass tone was downright filthy and his voice still soulful, though naturally lacking some of the range of his younger days. Tabor’s guitar solos were melodic and searing while never devolving into self-indulgent wankery. He’s also the happiest-looking musician one will ever see. As for Gaskill, he’s still an absolute monster behind the kit; it’s great to see him so healthy again these days too. 

During “Over My Head,” representing the joyous and loving soul of King’s X, Pinnick delivered his famous mid-song sermon. He decried the lack of empathy and division in modern society, imploring everyone to care for each other despite our differences. We all heard and sang the “music over our heads” with all the collective passion of a hard-rocking revival meeting. For the encore, the “Dogman” crushed our necks with abandon before the sublime, stripped-down rendition of “Goldilox” closed the show. We all sang every beautiful word, with Pinnick serving merely as conductor. I can think of no better way to conclude one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. Faith. Hope. Love. 

“I stand behind you and I watch you from a mile away. / Wishing you could be the one but not here this way./ I got to know your name./ And I must know who you are, yeah. ”

–Approximate Setlist: 1.) Groove Machine 2.) The World Around Me 3.) Pillow 4.) Flies and Blue Skies 5.) Vegetable 6.) Cigarettes 7.) Pray 8.) Black Flag 9.) Lost In Germany 10.) A Box 11.) Looking for Love 12.) Summerland 13.) Over My Head 14.) Go Tell Somebody 15). We Were Born to Be Loved. Encore: 16.) Dogman 17.) Goldilox 

–Jonathan Kollnot 

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on September 14, 2017.

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