|Kyle Thomas is King Tuff|
King Tuff @ Soda Bar,
Barbarian @ The Void
Another win Tuesday night over there on El Cajon Boulevard! Almost perfect save for the fact that both shows were 12 dollars. If both shows are going to be 10 plus the only people who are going to travel between the two are people on the list at one or both venues.
If you look at Garage Rock at a genre, there are two ends of the spectrum: At one end there is Garage Rock that is mostly influenced by Punk and at the other end there is Garage Rock that is mostly influenced by Blues. Psych influenced Garage Rock is on the Blues end of the spectrum. Independent of the sound there is a different spectrum for the look/style of Garage Rock bands- one end of the spectrum is "Tough" and the other end is "Cute."
King Tuff is a garage rock band that is more on the Blues end of the spectrum, and they do a good balance of tough and cute that is probably a significant factor in their success up this point. They came in town last night with close to 16 thousand Facebook friends and 850k Last Fm plays. (1) They put out an LP on Sub Pop last year, and this year Burger Records re-released their 2008 LP. (2)(3)
In their most recent review, Pitchfork called front man Kyle Thomas a "play ground legend" of garage rock and accurately summarized the nature of his appeal: His charisma is magnetic, his shows are akin to cheap-beer-soaked tent revivals, he combines the stadium-sized guitar licks of Erik Cartwright with the bratty whine of Eric Cartman, and his solo debut, 2008's Was Dead, was the sort of album most scuzz-loving musicians would incinerate their garages to make. (4)
He was in fine form last night, and enthusiastically received by a packed house. As far as I was concerned it was everything I expected to see. The obvious downside to being called a "play ground" legend is that it implies that one has not made it out of the play ground, and that the person is currently laboring in obscurity somewhere having failed to fulfill their potential. That doesn't seem to be the case with King Tuff but with two LPs in five years he is nowhere near the work rate that the A list garage rock bands demonstrate, and the lack of productivity alone (and maybe his distinctive vocals) are the only things holding him back from what probably merits an international touring career.
After that it was down to the Void to catch the record release set of local band Barbarian. Barbarian is on a very short list of local bands that do not appear to totally fucking clueless about what it takes to get a career going in the indie music world. They are just sitting around smoking weed and hoping to get signed. Instead they are recording and releasing music themselves, which is ultimately the only thing you can do if the larger music world fails to take notice of your band. Last night's show was further evidence that they are on the right track, if only that guaranteed success...
Barbarian has five pieces, all guys, all white. They play what sounds like trad alt rock. They are facing the same problems that face many of the rock bands formed by white dudes in San Diego: those spots are filled. I wish I had some idea of how to punch through the issues that arise from being a competent band with good professionalism playing a genre of music that is filled at the national level, but I don't.
If you are a band in that situation, you can't very well be something you are not. Five white guys with alt rock passions are not going to turn into a single girl playing a keyboard over looped samples of early 00's Warp-style electronics. They aren't going to turn into a black metal band from Brooklyn that wryly subverts genre conventions while mastering them at the same time. And they certainly aren't going to turn into a EDM producer from Copenhagen who is able to seamlessly knit together different EDM genres and release limited edition 12"s on a Berlin based techno label. And yet... those are the kind of acts that get noticed and have the potential to break out.
What they do have is a bunch of local supporters, and an enthusiasm and passion for playing their style of music. That might not be enough to get them noticed at the national/international level, but it made for a fun Tuesday night at The Void- even Seth Combs turned up- I don't think I've seen him at a show in five years. My only advice to Barbarian is to keep up your head down and your work rate up. Productivity is the only answer to being ignored by national/international audiences/press. As a band, you can't really change who you are and what you stand for without risking your authenticity, and that means you can't be bothered if who you are is a genre of music that isn't particularly "cool." So fucking what? You can only be yourself.