The last time I saw King Tuff was when Kyle Thomas and his cohorts took to shredding the Marathon Music Works stage whilst opening for the Father John, Misty. It was a superb show - King Tuff brought a tour de force of garage rock - and to be totally honest, not a whole lot has changed since - King Tuff still shred, Marathon Music Works’ house sound is still in question, and FJM is touring incessantly (but I’m not complaining). But enough of that hilarity. The matter at hand is King Tuff and how they’ve developed between Nashville stops over the past five years or so.
As alluded to earlier (literally one paragraph ago), King Tuff did anything and everything they could to more or less destroy (in a good way) the Marathon Music Works sound system with harrowing garage rock histrionics. That tour was in support of the band’s self-titled third LP, which features large portions of fuzz, spacey guitar, and tight, simple productions. Since then, King Tuff have released at least three other EPs or LPs, each of which touts a sea change of momentum, eventually culminating into their most recent effort, The Other. While there is plenty of fuzz rock to be found, those are more so remnants of a younger, slightly intemperate iteration of King Tuff.
Admittedly, The Other left me somewhat taken aback at just how dynamic and tasteful it is for a King Tuff record. Granted, I’m not saying the releases that preceded it were anything other than just that, but The Other feels like a universal spire of sound that permeates so many different genre classifications, it’s virtually undefinable (once again, in a good way). There are few genre conventions at work on The Other, with tracks like “Raindrop Blue” taking some sort of space-age Saturday Night Fever groove if The Bee Gees ditched the falsetto for unfiltered guitar mixed with cigarette smoke.
There’s a disparate lounge singer vibe to Kyle Thomas when he’s on stage - he’s present and cognizant of the stage, all the while off in a different world; whether it’s one of wistfulness versus wounds is only for him to know and for the audience to speculate through some absolutely fantastic tunes. “Circuits In the Sands” feels like a nice B3 fantasm groove straight out of The Animals’ 60s sets live, but a little more panache thanks to Thomas and his uniquely enthusiastic backing band.
There was rarely a moment where someone wasn’t smiling or hamming it up ever so slightly, whether for their own benefit or the audience’s remains to the be seen, but at the end of the day, all that matters is the music, and it did not disappoint.
The most entertaining moment of the set (in my opinion) came during the title track, “The Other,” which features pretty heavily in the synth and keys department, and is oddly reminiscent of our Nashville friends Bent Denim, but that’s beside the point in this case. What matters is just how significant a departure the song is both lyrically and musically when it comes to what King Tuff is “classically” known to sound like. It’s remarkably pensive song with a depth of emotion that one might not always readily identify in King Tuff songs. It’s a strong indicator of the continued upward trajectory of King Tuff’s evolution over the years, and The Basement East set further solidified such a fact. Hopefully it won’t be another five years before King Tuff rolls through town, but whenever that next time may be, I have no doubt it still be part of that upswing that’s been brought about by The Other.