Concert Review: King Tuff @ Rock and Roll Hotel (5/16/18)

King Tuff
King Tuff (Photo from FB @kingtuffy)

One thing you can be sure of, with a name like King Tuff, the band means business.

The moniker King Tuff refers to the musician Kyle Thomas but also the name of his band, or maybe those that perform with him during his shows or maybe he’s a real rock monarch. It would not be disingenuous to reveal, it’s tough to sort out.

The band this time around included three women on guitar, synthesizer and bass, as well as one male drummer rocking a very retro set of mutton chops.

I say retro only so I can lead into the styles of music composed by King Tuff (Kyle), which flirts with synth-heavy 1980’s music or psychedelic funk rock or just an old school 1970’s rock anthem. The show was an eclectic mix, and one needs a thesaurus to sort out.

Kyle released his fifth album, The Other, via Sub Pop Records in April. And he really wanted the audience to hear and enjoy that album, because he played ALL of the songs from it over the course of his 17-song set.

The Rock and Roll Hotel was not quite sold out to hear ALL the songs, but certainly brimming with eager fans and possibilities to convert new ones.

Kyle and his merry band kicked off the evening with the title track from The Other, and just kept playing songs from the album. Kyle sported a green jacket and a hybrid trucker hat/Russian hat with patches on it. Definitely an offbeat ‘look’ he’s crafted and refined for his live shows.

The Other album could be about the world-changing for the worse, like environmental issues and technology dependence, but the songs have such a gleeful and energetic light, the messages may get lost as you simply enjoy the moment. And the music did keep the audience moving and smiling, with scant time for reflection.

Midway through the main set, Kyle and co. gave the crowd the funky “Psycho Star”, which makes you get higher ‘watching the wind blow, watching the rain so hard, watching the fire getting higher’. And just before that the atmospheric “Thru the Cracks” feels like a 1960’s protest song. The super-riff “Ultraviolet” delves into the notion that love is eternal (probably).

At one point Kyle asked if ‘we could get more fog going?’, as if we needed another visual or musical cue to make the proceedings any more idiosyncratic (or fun).

“Neverending Sunshine” is a trippy, psychedelic ride that could be depressing lyrically if you’re sitting alone with your thoughts and your headphones, but not when the band is so intensely leading the crowd on a magical, musical journey.

They came back for three encore songs, including the electric rock “Eyes of the Muse” (which was my favorite song they performed) and left us with “Bad Thing”, another retro peek into old school rock.

Trying to sort out comparisons is hard work, so I will say the recorded King Tuff tracks have one life, but the live versions have a completely different life and vibe, one that is well worth the journey.

The Other
Raindrop Blue
Circuits in the Sand
Birds of Paradise
Unusual World
Thru the Cracks
Psycho Star
Freak When I’m Dead
Neverending Sunshine
Infinite Mile
No Man’s Land

Eyes of the Muse
Sun Medallion
Bad Thing

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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