Marcus King probably tired of hearing it long ago. The comments about how talented a guitar player he is, with the qualifier that he’s only 19, then 20, then 21, and now just 22 years old. He’s good, really good, and with an outstanding band with him on stage each night, they are a treat to be able to enjoy up close.
A couple hundred souls enjoyed such a treat Monday, September 10th at the Catalyst Atrium in Santa Cruz, CA. Once King and band had finished blowing through a frenzied 14-song set, there were mutterings of “wow” as they stumbled out the front door and into the cool ocean air. The planned setlist, neatly crafted and exhaled from a printer before being taped to various positions on stage, went off the rails early. King donned his ever-present 1962 Gibson ES-345 and he and the band produced two or three uninterrupted songs out the gate, including the ripping “Booty Stank”, that leaned heavily on Marcus King’s guitar talents.
After a powerful “Dyin” the band inserted a pair of selections not on the setlist with “Self-Hatred” and “8AM”, the latter from their upcoming release “Carolina Confessions”. The R&B flavored tune rises and falls in tone with tasty snippets of support from keyboardist DeShawn “D-Vibes” Alexander, and punchy soul horns from Justin Johnson on trumpet and saxophonist Dean “The Sax Machine” Mitchell. The song is a gem on it’s own. But when King tacked on a blazing guitar solo, it elevated to a tune you should look forward to hearing live. “Side Door”, also from the new record was big, horn-fueled powerhouse capped by King’s soul-rich vocal.
The instrumental jam “Fraudulent Waffle” showcased band speed and changing tempos on a dime by the somewhat underrated foundation of animated drummer Jack Ryan, and sedate bassist Stephen Campbell. By the time they moved into the crunchy blues riff of “Honey”, both tunes hail from their debut album “Soul Insight”, the guitar tech and I gave up trying to figure out what they’d play next.
The setlist now looked like a diagram of the “Philly Special” that the Philadelphia Eagles now famously executed in last season’s Super Bowl, as it was hand reconstructed with lines, arrows, dots, and dashes from a sharpie on the fly. One last line and arrow moved the ballad “The Man You Didn’t Know” to the main set closer.
But Marcus King wasn’t through with surprises, as Drew Smithers, from the opening band Bishop Gunn, joined King on stage for “Welcome Round Here” from the new record. With King swapping the 345 for a Les Paul and then mid-song calling for the Gold Top, the pair coupled for open-handed bends and slide guitar revelry on a cover of The Allman Brothers “Dreams”, leaving the appreciative crowd spent and smiling.
With a terrific new record due out October 5, the chance to see this outstanding sextet from the Carolina’s in a club environment may become a rarity. The following night they sold out San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall…on a Tuesday.
Photos by Mike Smyth